Are You Green?

A talk with Michael Dell about energy efficiency.

As an undergraduate, I majored in environmental science, so I was looking forward to hosting a conversation with Michael Dell at CIO magazine's first annual IT Energy Efficiency Summit several weeks ago in Washington, D.C.

Here are key takeaways from that conversation that can help your green computing strategy:

Get your CEO on board. The topic of energy efficiency feels good and has high visibility in executive boardrooms, but it's hard to translate into corporate strategy. Your CEO must be personally engaged in developing that strategy. A top-down strategy works better than a bottom- or middle-up one.

Start with your data center. Consolidating data centers and aggressive virtualization plans are logical first steps. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy, David E. Rodgers, reminded the summit audience that power-hungry data centers use 1.5 percent of the energy consumed in the United States. He warned that we need to fix this problem within 15 years.

A key to-do when consolidating those data centers is to make sure the IT and facilities departments are on the same page, understand the metrics that are being used to measure the savings and have ironed out a way to share those savings. Be bold. True energy conservation is not a project for just one quarter or one fiscal year. Michael Dell pledged 5 months ago that Dell would be a "carbon neutral" global firm by the end of 2008 (meaning they offset greenhouse gases from their operations). He reported that they are reaching that goal ahead of schedule.

Don't forget your suppliers and partners. Michael Dell and Albert Esser, the vice president of Dell's data center infrastructure, shared the importance of holding your supply chain or procurement partners to the same green computing parameters you have at your firm.

Cost savings was the primary driver of implementing green IT strategies, followed somewhat distantly by shareholder or regulatory pressure.

Several months ago I traveled to China with my daughter. On a shopping spree she purchased a white overcoat. When I asked her, "Why white? It will get dirty," she said, "Dad, white is the new black." Green is the new black in corporate computing. I encourage you to follow the example of firms like Dell and make IT energy efficiency a strategic pillar of your organization.

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