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Green IT, virtualization top of mind at IT Roadmap

Green IT and virtualization are among the hot topics to be aired at Tuesday's IT Roadmap event in New York City, where IT experts will share best practices on cutting costs and providing better services.

Users have somewhat mixed perceptions of green IT because vendors tend to over-hype products as “green.” But the move toward more efficient and, hopefully, less expensive IT processes is an unavoidable trend, say industry professionals due to speak IT Roadmap, a Network World event.

Green IT is “absolutely real,” says James Carney, executive vice president of data center planning at Citigroup in New York. “The operational efficiencies and cost savings that are associated with successful green projects are what make them very useful or important to someone like Citigroup. We don't do it just to be good corporate citizens. We do it because we can optimize our cost and efficiency.”

Citigroup takes a holistic view of green IT that goes beyond the company's power usage, says Michelle Erickson, who is leading a project to promote environmental sustainability in the company's global IT infrastructure. In addition to power management, goals include reducing use of paper, reducing travel, maintaining a sustainable supply chain, and educating employees.

“Green is not just about energy consumption,” Erickson says. “It's also about making sure your employees have the collaboration tools necessary to work productively, efficiently as a team, and enable them to work anywhere from around the world.”

At the data center level, Citigroup's green projects started a few years ago, driven largely by a tremendous increase in the number of physical servers. Citigroup had 52 data centers in 2005 and plans to reduce that to 14 by 2010, Carney says. By using virtualization, the company has also dramatically slowed down its server growth.

Virtualization is also a key technology for Davis & Gilbert, a law firm in New York with more than 100 attorneys. CIO Lance Rea explains that server virtualization allowed the firm to create an acceptable disaster-recovery process. Just a few years ago, the firm's backup processes consisted solely of backing up to tapes and storing them at an Iron Mountain facility. Recovering from a major disaster would have taken Davis & Gilbert two weeks, and would have required shipment of backup tapes, purchasing of new servers, reinstallation of operating systems and restoration of Active Directory, Rea says. “I get the shivers just thinking about that,” he says.

Now the law firm uses VMware to virtualize critical applications and replicates them to a disaster-recovery site. Besides improving uptime, Rea credits virtualization with reducing electricity use and freeing up staff to work on projects other than hardware maintenance. He says he's considering moving to a virtualized desktop environment as well.

Want to compare storage products? View our IT Product Guides now.”The coolness factor [of virtualization] from an IT standpoint is undeniable,” Rea says. “It's something that, especially with VMotion, works really well and it's easy for any IT person to grasp what you can do with that.”

Green IT and virtualization are also on the minds of officials at Aggregate Industries, a maker of construction materials in Rockville, Md., and the United Kingdom.

“We've come at it from a broader interest in promoting environmental and social responsibility, but the target and the sales pitch that's allowed us to succeed. The cost savings we see as a result of the programs we're introducing,” says Derek Young, an IT Roadmap speaker who leads Aggregate's corporate social responsibility program.

Aggregate is consolidating from 11 data centers and server rooms to just two data centers, and the company wants one of them to be LEED-certified. In addition to using alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power for lighting, Aggregate is using a mix of Microsoft and VMware virtualization software to reduce its server count.

Aggregate has 350 or so servers and could potentially reduce that to about 60% of the current count, says CIO George Kelly.

Because going green can require up-front spending before long-term savings are realized, a successful green project requires a careful approach and executive sponsorship. “It's always a little difficult when you are starting this type of a process in a company that's not really been doing it yet,” Young says. “We were successful in starting small and identifying initiatives that had low costs but obvious returns.”

Small companies might be able to accomplish energy efficiency goals more quickly than large ones, Erickson notes. “In a large organization, it can be slog going, but a single project can have a big impact,” she says.

Whatever a company's size, Carney of Citigroup urges collaboration between IT shops and facilities operations, which is key for measuring and restraining IT power use.

“In many firms, those are separate and distinct functions,” Carney says. “People should realize the impact data centers have on the environment, and you have to partner with your company's real estate organization so you have a common goal.”

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