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Elisabeth Stahl, Chief Technical Strategist and Member, IBM Academy of Technology

By Elisabeth Stahl

We learned this week that IBM has been named for the second consecutive year as the greenest large company in the U.S., according to the Newsweek 2012 Green Rankings survey. A panel of independent judges ranked the top 500 companies in the U.S. in terms of environmental impact, environmental management and sustainability disclosure, and IBM came out on top.

Environmental responsibility is important in the technology industry – but it’s not just about saving electricity. One aspect that’s often overlooked is how companies make the most of their IT resources.

While most consumers (including me) are well aware that the processors in their laptops or mobile devices remain dormant most of the time, that’s not the biggest concern, mostly because of expense.

However, the problem takes a quantum leap for corporate data centers.  They are typically powered by thousands of servers that aren’t as efficient as they could be. Many of those servers are underutilized during downtimes, which is a serious and expensive business problem.

Think of a city bus that runs around town mostly empty. The city is still buying gas, paying the driver and mechanics, etc. It’s full of hidden expenses.

The same can be said for the average data center, which is dealing with the flood of digital data generated by social media, video downloads, mobile devices and the like. This poses a big efficiency challenge for data centers, where inefficiency may be commonplace.

According to industry analysts, less than 15% of datacenter power performs actual calculations during many time periods; the balance is used to maintain excess capacity to meet eventual spikes in demand.

Some of the imbalance can be addressed by power-management and cooling systems.  IBM has long attacked the root of the problem with a holistic system design for nearly every component of an IT system – from the chip, to the software, to the server, storage and network.  We are even cooling systems with hot water.

But it’s not just about wasted power. Datacenter underutilization is preventing organizations from innovating and growing. Of more than 300 global businesses surveyed by IBM and IDC, only 21 percent were operating highly efficient data centers, but those companies are able to spend 50% more on business innovation and growth.

That’s where innovative IT technologies such as virtualization and consolidation and enhanced systems management actually contribute to business innovation.

So while sustainability rankings are important, it’s hardly the end goal.  We must innovate to reduce the global footprint of datacenters, because the world will continue to create mountains of data and the demand for power will not go away.  There are innovations coming in the new era of computing, as smarter IT infrastructure becomes more powerful and energy efficient.  The key is to make datacenters that perform more efficiently.

Meanwhile, I’ll remember to shut down my laptop next time I leave the house.

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July 24, 2013
10:34 am

Thanks Elisabeth for sharing!

Posted by: netotrade
June 25, 2013
1:59 pm

Thanks for sharing this! I was just put in charge in running the data center for the new small business I am a part of, and it has been fine so far. We just ordered some new computers and computer cabinets to house them in. I really hope our little startup will be something big one day!

Posted by: Chase Howard
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