by Michael Bullock

Green IT Hype vs. The Real Deal

Jun 04, 20096 mins
Data Center

I absolutely believe green is good. Unless it's being used in a misleading, manipulative or self-serving way.

I feel like the world is stuck in some kind of mash-up of the movies Wall Street and Groundhog Day.  It’s an unsavory mix of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas’), “Greed is good!” mantra combined with weatherman Phil Connors’ (Bill Murray’s) loop of selfish, hedonistic habit.

In our real life version, we’re seeing entire industries cycling greed and going nowhere fast.  Here is the pattern:

1. Find an angle to exploit.

2. Run it into the ground while ignoring the future.

3. At the end, when the check comes due, look for a handout.

Think about it. First we had the whole banking subprime mortgage fiasco. Once the government “modernized” the banking industry, practically everybody could borrow any amount of money they wanted based on the hype-fueled upward spiral of property values – which, of course, was a fantasy and not sustainable. And once the government stepped in to fix the problems it helped create, it became more difficult for qualified borrowers to get timely loans, making sure times stayed tough. This despite the fact that Bank of America and Citigroup received over $100 billion of taxpayer money combined (of the $200 billion banking total).  (By the way, how much of that cash did you get? I’ve yet to receive my slice.)

And then we have GM which was loaned $15.4 billion by the US Treasury Department under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) in 2008 and then received another $30 billion this year. So where did those billions go? They circled down the toilet of debt service, payroll, severance, and other “black hole” expenses, and now they’re gone. Again, it’s a Groundhog Day loop with a centrifugal spiral of greed and habit.

I suppose I side with Texas Congressman Ron Paul who last November wrote, “In bailing out failing companies, they are confiscating money from productive members of the economy and giving it to failing ones. By sustaining companies with obsolete or unsustainable business models, the government prevents their resources from being liquidated and made available to other companies that can put them to better, more productive use.”

So where is the IT industry in this cycle?  We’re definitely in the “find an angle to exploit” stage and that angle is “Green is good.” And you don’t need to buy into the whole global warming scenario to acknowledge that energy conservation and sustainability are worthy initiatives if for no other reason than that they conserve capital and preserve resources.

It certainly appears that everyone who sells goods, services and information to the IT sector has embraced green.  Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe green is good … unless it is being used in a misleading, manipulative or self-serving way.

For instance:

I recently attended the Network World, “IT Roadmap Conference and Expo” eager to hear what groundbreaking insights were going to be offered by Cisco and Verizon.

These companies sponsored a green IT seminar to discuss power management in the data center and office environments, utility computing, thin clients and virtualization as a green enabler.  Unfortunately, what we got was an hour long infomercial on the merits of telecommuting and video conferencing. I felt like I had been suckered with a resort timeshare-type bait-and-switch.

There are, of course, good reasons to green IT.  Virtualization clearly offers the promise of better resource utilization and lower operating expense.  Energy-Star servers, outside air economizers and the like offer true green advantages.  But, for example, are floor tiles with embedded fans green? No. In fact, they’re entirely unnecessary in a truly green facility. If you’re convinced you need them, I’m sure you’re wasting a lot more electricity than you realize. Is cogeneration green (i.e., producing your own primary electricity from fossil fuel-based generators)?  While it may lower your electricity costs, it’s by no means carbon friendly and it’s certainly not green.

Here’s a question: When you think of Symantec, what comes to mind?  Do you think “Green IT and data center optimization?”  I don’t.  Yet they’re on the green bandwagon: “Symantec helps IT decision makers to reduce energy consumption and increase space utilization by providing solutions that increase desktop, server, and storage efficiencies.”  Ok, maybe this is a side benefit of their offering but it’s a bit of a stretch to call it green, no? 

That said, Symantec has produced a decent white paper worthy of a peek: The Green Data Center – A Symantec Green IT Guide.  Early in the report Symantec notes that half the power required for a data center is NOT used by the IT equipment; it’s used for power distribution and cooling.  And then the remainder of the paper focuses on the IT side where the savings are more difficult to attain and quantify, and require a significant investment of time and money.  

Why do so many companies, like Symantec, focus on the more difficult side of the equation?  Because that’s the only side they can influence. It reminds me of the old adage: “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

If you are running out of power, space, or cooling, you should be thinking about data center facility optimization because that’s where you’re likely to achieve substantial and immediate gains.  When you hear the “green is good” drum beat, take the time to figure out what’s truly relevant. In many cases, you’ll find a lot of hype and very little substance.

So, are IT vendors are heading toward a Groundhog Day crash-and-bailout-and crash cycle? I don’t think so. This industry thrives on competition and innovation.  With a relatively low level of unionized labor and a very small pension burden, the ground rules in tech are entirely different than they were for, say, GM.  In the tech sector, boom and bust is as natural a cycle as cicadas and solar storms. We’ve all been there before. Companies offering innovation and substance will survive. Those that depend upon hype will perish. It has always been that way in tech and it always will be.

As always, I welcome your comments, tips, insights and topic suggestions.  You can reach me at

Michael Bullock is the founder and CEO of Transitional Data Services (TDS), a Boston, MA-based consulting firm focusing on green data centers, data center consolidation / relocation, enterprise applications and technical operations.  Prior to founding TDS, Bullock held executive leadership positions at Student Advantage, CMGI and Renaissance Worldwide.