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Coping with the cost of carbon

How to take hold of your ICT energy spend.

The national carbon price was introduced at the start of this financial year. It’s a reality, so what does a carbon price mean for your ICT infrastructure?

Simply put, a carbon price will mean an increase in your IT running costs as energy companies will likely be passing through the carbon price to consumers. If you are in the same boat as 99 per cent of Australian CIOs and IT managers Fujitsu surveyed late last year, there is a good chance that you don’t know what your ICT energy spend is and therefore don’t have a good handle on the implications a carbon price will have on your bottom line.

Depending on your industry, IT could be responsible for up to 80 per cent of your total energy bill, and – depending on the source – energy prices are expected to go up anywhere from 5 to 20 per cent under the carbon price.

Here are four key steps that can help you find up to 20 per cent savings in your ICT energy spend and therefore insulate yourself against a carbon price. (In some cases, more than 40 per cent has been saved.)

1. Know your energy

Sounds very simple, but surprisingly very few of us in an IT role know how much energy our IT equipment uses. You can do some simple calculations based on the number of desktops, laptops, printers and servers. Check with the manufacturers’ details and do a rough estimate on the number of PCs left on overnight, in sleep and idle. Once you have the information in kWh you can determine your future carbon price impact.

2. Start a program, not a project

IT professionals love projects. It’s what we are good at and it’s what keeps the industry ticking. We are, however, at times not so good at running a program that involves ongoing effort, monitoring and measurement. The recent trends in the Global ICT Sustainability Index are a testament to this, as from 2010 to 2011 globally we have gone backwards in terms of our ICT sustainability maturity.

Analysts put this disappointing trend down to the fact that the ICT industry has treated sustainability as a project and then moved on to the next thing. Hence, the view that the easy low hanging fruit or energy efficiency and sustainability eventually grows back in many organisations.

Start an ICT sustainability program, one that has long- and short-term goals. Set targets and look to reinvest savings into future projects so you don’t have to keep on asking your CFO for more money, who, by the way, will now be looking more closely at the power bill. A program should have regular monitoring and involve other stakeholders from outside IT such as facilities, finance, HR and your sustainability officer (if you have one).

3. Tackle the elephant

Take a serious look at all your servers, applications and data centre hosting. A server can cost up to $1000 a year to run and can be responsible for up to five tonnes of carbon. Now is the time to take stock and tackle the elephant in the room as this is where most of your energy costs will come from. If you have been putting off an application or server consolidation, virtualization project or cloud implementation, then now is the time to dust off that business case and ROI modelling and factor in the ongoing energy costs and carbon price.

Recently, I was able to demonstrate to a listed company that a server and application consolidation project would not only save the company up to $1 million in ongoing future opex, but would wipe up to 4.5 per cent of CO2 emissions off their carbon balance sheet.

But these savings are not just limited to the big end of town – you would be surprised how many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are hosting servers in cupboards and basements that are totally inefficient. Even SMEs should really be taking advantage of new services such as cloud hosting or at least moving their kit into a purpose-built energy-efficient data centre.

4. Engage the user

A desktop PC can cost more than $150 a year to run. This might not seem like much but if you have thousands or even dozens of users then it quickly starts to add up. Hopefully, in your program, you have looked at end-user computing and have engaged all staff to at least shut their PCs down at night and have effective policies for idle, sleep and shutdown modes. Some users may be very anti-policy as there is nothing more annoying than having your PC shutdown at 7pm when you are working on that important deadline. Plus, this can be a sure way to disengage fellow team members.

Any policy change needs to be accompanied by an awareness or education project that is linked to the overall program. If you’re not already using them, you should seriously consider installing some of the latest end user power management software tools. Some of these tools can give you real-time information on your energy use, identify power hungry machines in your fleet that may need fixing or replacing and in some cases can even provide end users with their own performance score and energy savings tips. Such software tools can save up to 40 per cent off your energy use and can have a payback in a few months.

If you get a grip on these four key steps, then you will be well on your way to finding that 20 per cent energy savings. You will not only insulate your IT department from the impact of a future carbon price but will most likely get a pat on the back from the CFO and give your sustainability manager a carbon saving and a good story to boot.

Lee Stewart is sustainability lead and principal consultant at Fujitsu Australia.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

More about: Engage, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Australia
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