Energy-Efficient IT Leadership

How CIOs can become champions of environmental sustainability. And the business case for why they should.

Nothing big happens without a leader to champion it. Whether motivated by the bottom line or concern about the planet (hopefully both), CIOs and IT managers play a critical leadership role in putting their companies on an energy diet.

We wanted to know how IT leaders can go about leading the charge to reduce corporate energy use. So we asked six experts to assess the impact IT can have on energy consumption and weigh in on best tools and techniques for capturing the value of greener computing. Our panel of technology leaders, researchers and vendors includes:

  • Marv Adams, CIO, Citigroup
  • John Davies, VP, Green Technology Research, AMR Research
  • David Douglas, VP, Eco-Responsibility, Sun Microsystems
  • David Kepler, CIO, Dow Chemical
  • Kevin Klustner, CEO, Verdiem
  • Jonathan Koomey, Staff Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Consulting Professor, Stanford University

The group met over e-mail during a week in May. A transcript of the conversation follows, along with links to more information you can use to build your own case for a greener, more energy-efficient company.

CIO: We recently published a story in which we said an energy-efficient data center should be a no-brainer for CIOs because it saves a lot of money. In the same issue, David Kepler noted that IT plays a big role in managing energy usage for Dow’s manufacturing plants—billions of dollars in savings there. And yet, my impression is that the vast majority of CIOs have not contemplated these opportunities with much seriousness until very recently. Why?


Read more on energy efficiency.

Jonathan Koomey: In my view it’s an issue of organizational structure and incentives. Most IT shops don’t coordinate well with their own facilities folks, and their budgets are separate. Even if they were inclined to cooperate, they don’t see benefit to their department by doing so.

Someone needs to be focused on minimizing total cost of ownership. I think that needs to be the CFO. In addition, it’s important to create what The Uptime Institute calls Integrated Critical Environment (ICE) teams or the equivalent, so that no big decisions about data center operations or construction are made without all the relevant folks in the room at the same time.

Kevin Klustner: We see the same issue on the desktop side. Reducing electricity waste on PCs is low hanging fruit when it comes to implementing organizationwide energy-efficiency goals. However, since IT doesn’t own the plug-load, they haven’t been overly concerned about waste.

Marv Adams: One reason that CIOs are starting to pay a lot more attention to this is that board members and senior executives are focusing more on sustainability issues. Also, we are seeing IT transform rapidly into full solution providers. Our role increasingly is to orchestrate or design solutions from a large array of component technologies.

For example, as sensor technologies become sophisticated and inexpensive, they represent additional components available for designing solutions. We are going to see many control system solutions across many types of processes as a result of this technology evolution—resource consumption representing just one example. Finally, virtualization technologies are making it possible to drive asset utilization up substantially. With these technologies reaching a level of maturity for large-scale production use, IT can drive efficiency and lower energy consumption.

David Douglas: I agree with Marv, but think those are probably the least common drivers right now. Practical power and cooling issues, and cost and availability of power are the more common rationales. I’ve only talked to a dozen or so large companies who are truly making decisions based on environmental concerns—though the list is growing. The good news is that no matter which of the reasons drive you to reduce power and get more efficient, the environment wins.


Read more about energy efficiency

  I also very much agree with Jon’s point about needing to align energy and capital costs. The amount of energy required to power $1 worth of computing equipment has been steadily rising. Ten years ago the amount spent on energy was a small fraction of the amount spent on equipment, so it’s not a surprise that we see the spending disconnect. Today these numbers are getting closer, and if trends continue, they will pass each other sometime in the future. So the discussion about who pays has been on track to become an issue, independent of the whole green movement.

Koomey: HP has the latest published graphs on the cost of infrastructure per dollar of IT equipment, and the data shows that power and cooling infrastructure costs passed IT costs in 2004. That means that for every dollar expended on IT equipment, there’s more than one dollar spent on the infrastructure to run it.

Douglas: That’s interesting. I was pursuing a slightly different point, which was that the actual energy cost to power the systems plus the infrastructure is approaching the depreciation cost of the equipment on an annualized basis. I have some IDC data that shows the curves crossing sometime soon after 2010. [IDC is a sister company to’s publisher.] Since this is dependent on the local price of electricity, the belief is that the curves have already crossed in some expensive locales.

John Davies: David is correct when he says there are only a few companies making decisions based on environmental concerns.

There are, however, a couple of promising trends. First is that the leaders are publicly setting environmental and energy targets and reporting their performance against them. This serves to provide guidance to companies that are new to considering the topic.

Second, the leading companies are integrating environmental and energy metrics into their supplier scorecards. By asking value chain partners to reduce environmental impact and energy intensity, it will drive their supply base to look for efficiencies and for many companies the CIO will find the low-hanging fruit.

Use Energy Efficiency Benchmarks

David Kepler: How you approach this issue is a primary function of who you are as a company. Approximately 8 percent of the world’s energy is used in the manufacturing of chemicals. Virtually all things that are manufactured require chemistry somewhere in the value chain. So energy efficiency is built into how we act and how we manage with our customers. We have had energy as part of our economic evaluation of computer equipment purchases for 25 years at least, primarily because we evaluate them the same way we evaluate other chemical manufacturing equipment.

Our IT-related energy savings are small relative to the overall company, but we have an established mind-set about reducing them. A few years ago we went to automatic configurations of monitors. We had more than 40,000 workstations in use globally. At the time, according to the announcement we posted on our intranet, we were conserving more than 45 million kilowatt-hours annually. This translated into enough energy to power 4,365 homes for a year and it saved $2.5 million in electricity costs. For those that want to do their own calculations; see the Energy Star site.

Klustner: That’s a very important point. Energy efficiency is simply a component of operational efficiency. We’ll know when green IT has reached the mainstream when IT energy efficiency is viewed as an integral requirement to reduce operational costs.

The government’s Energy Star program David refers to has been instrumental in bringing focus to the energy waste of IT devices including PC monitors. And their efforts to get PC and monitor manufacturers to integrate Energy Star settings into their devices is a fundamental advancement. However, the settings alone don’t realize energy savings. They must be enforced. This study from the Department of Energy and others indicate that upwards of 80 percent of end users disable these settings.

Meanwhile, the Energy Star settings don’t provide benchmarking and ongoing energy audits and measurement.

Adams: Obviously, measurement is critical. Citi tracks energy consumption in all of its 14,500 facilities. And we benchmark energy efficiency (by watts per square foot, watts per seat, watts per FTE) against both internal and external data, including Energy Star. We are looking for ways to measure efficiency of energy per some significant IT measure. Our data centers account for 11 percent of our overall electrical usage.

We are also looking at the relative loads on servers; putting programs in place to make sure that servers are optimally loaded and testing software that reduces energy consumption in idle PCs. While there are some technical hurdles to overcome, we are optimistic we will see a reduction of up to 80 percent when compared to current idle mode consumption.

Meanwhile, we are optimizing the power densities (measured as watts per square foot) in our data centers by consolidating into new centers that are more efficient and we are using LEED (The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building rating system) as our reference model, with commitment to LEED certification for all new centers plus retrofitting some.

CIO: You mentioned LEED and EPA benchmarks. Tell us how they help you. Do you need better benchmarks?

Kepler: Energy STAR and LEED bring attention to the opportunity and provide some “How-tos.”

Koomey: But I’m not convinced that LEED as it now stands is particularly useful in the data center space. The metrics that are required are so different from those in typical commercial buildings that a LEED rating doesn’t convey much useful information for a data center.

The metrics I’ve been working on with the EPA—one for volume servers and one for infrastructure—will allow comparisons between products and between facilities, and will support goal setting and continuous improvement. Right now server purchasers and facility operators don’t have an objective way to compare servers from different manufacturers in a consistent way, or to compare a new facility’s efficiency to an existing one. Having real, consistent, and widely reported metrics will allow market forces to promote efficiency in a way that is not now possible.

Klustner: It’s almost as if we need to invent a LEED program specifically for data centers. I’m thinking a consortium along the lines of Green Grid that incorporates representatives from IT data centers (corporate CIOs, for example), cooling/thermal engineers and hardware vendors coming together to develop LEED-like standards for data centers.

I have yet to see a specific requirement from our IT customers that their vendors be green, but you can see it coming. I know PC manufacturers that we speak with are diligently designing green PCs that include more recyclable materials, more efficient power supplies and power management capabilities in anticipation of just this sort of IT green filtering.

Adams: I agree that the current LEED standards are far from perfect when it comes to developing or operating data centers. That being said, there are several threads that can be pulled from the criteria that make sense:

Install equipment that uses energy efficiently and incorporates equipment that provides a payback in a two- to four-year time frame: These facilities are typically operated for 30 years, so the lifecycle payback is more than acceptable. Optimizing the IT equipment and HVAC layout to provide flexibility to the user while providing the necessary cooling where needed is also a good approach.

Design the building shell to limit heat gain and manage impact of the elements: This lowers overall operating cost. Citi will be installing our first green roof on a data center in Europe. The expectation is that the roof will last 40 years. When compared to the 20-25 year life expectancy of other roofing systems, we believe that this is the right lifecycle decision. And, it makes sense to incorporate trees in the landscaping to provide a visual shield of the building while also benefiting the environment.

Minimize water consumption, recycle construction waste, and purchase from vendors who are within a 500-mile radius to limit transportation expense and reduce gases caused by vehicles.

Our experience is that if you start early in the design process, you can incorporate many of these features and benefits without exceeding budgets. This was the case with our data center in Europe. We’ve met our budget requirements, and our data center is designed to the LEED Gold standard. We would also be interested in working with the United States and World Green Building Council to see if they would be willing to create standards for data centers, similar to the U.S. Green Building Councils accommodation of the retail community by creating a separate LEED retail standard.

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