Turning a new leaf

CIOs in the Middle East still struggle to give green ICT investments a business language, and this is hampering the adoption of environmentally-sane choices in organisations.

Although the buzz surrounding green tech has quieted significantly over the past couple of years, don’t take that to mean the job is finished. Despite the significant innovations that have helped organisations boost the energy efficiency of their operations while reducing waste, there are still plenty of opportunities to raise the green bar.

All those petabytes of Web content generated on a daily basis need to reside somewhere, ready to be pushed at a moment’s notice to the increasing number of smartphones and other mobile devices flooding the market. All of that translates to more storage and processing, which in turn translates to higher capital and operating expenses for companies. The solution: green IT, which allows you to make more efficient use of IT by doing more with less.

“There’s a clear global consensus that energy efficiency and emission reductions are critical to sustainable ICT development. International organisations and governments have already enacted policies aimed at improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon footprints. The global ICT industry has also undertaken serious efforts to research efficiency standards, with the world’s big-name operators and equipment vendors having mapped out a series of best practices and environmental protection standards,” says Leo Xu, VP of the Middle East region at Huawei.

However, are Middle East enterprises really paying attention to the green story?

“In reality, some are and some aren’t. Green IT is on some of the lists we do receive in terms of needs, however it is generally not in the top five or six needs that are documented or expressed to us. The top needs are typically focused on delivering what their business needs as the primary requirement to be addressed,” says George De Bono, GM for the MEA at Red Hat.

Adds Mahesh Vaidya, CEO at ISIT, “Yes and no. As a drive, green IT doesn’t largely exist in Middle East. However, by bringing in cloud computing, virtualisation and server consolidation technologies major businesses today are looking to redesign the way all of IT is setup, managed and services the business. Indeed, this is the core value of green IT.”

Globally, green ICT has garnered a lot of mind share. However, the topic remains a nascent area of interest for managers in the Middle East, and there are multiple reasons for the apparent lack of empathy.

Green consciousness
“Sustainable IT management and use has to do with the way a company manages its IT assets. It includes purchasing energyefficient desktops, notebooks, servers and other IT equipment, as well as managing the power consumption of that equipment. It also refers to the environmentally safe disposal of that equipment, through recycling or donation at the end of its lifecycle,” points out Vaidya.

In other words, the green ideology should permeate every aspect of IT and influence every element of lifecycle management from start to finish. Some others believe that this thought process should stretch to departments outside IT as well; that the mindset of sustainability should touch every aspect of an organisation’s functioning to have a true impact on IT as well as operational efficiency.

However, for such far-reaching changes within companies, any green investment would have to tick two very critical boxes – it has to be connected to a business line of thought, and it would have to help cut a lot of costs, if not add directly to the bottomline.

“The biggest challenge we face is that a lot of our markets are classified as emerging, and are growing at such a rate, that non green options are the easiest and cheapest to deploy,” points out De Bono.

While power remains relatively cheap in the Middle East, and construction remains on a high point across most geogrpahies, companies will tend to invest in established infrastructure solutions that might not carry the green tag, and are certainly cheaper (in terms of capex atleast) when compared to their more power-hungry cousins.

Walking the talk
Despite these significant challenges, which restricts the amount any vendor can push the message and how much they can sell to an end-user, some organisations in the region are making piece-meal investments in greener technologies.

“Every entity is unique in how IT solutions are applied within their existing infrastructure—and the benefits that they can expect from such initiatives. What we see today is a number of organisations that have set up sustainability governance teams that work above IT support groups in order to identify solutions that address overall “green” strategies and goals,” states Xu.

“I know of a few organisations who are moving to things like solar energy to power
their data centres and facilities, moves like this need to be highlighted and the organisations taking these steps need to be congratulated. Let’s face it, we have a very
good constant source of alternate power, and the more we use it, the less impact it
has on our environment,” says De Bono.

Apart from identifying and working with alternate power sources, companies
are making choices more consciously from options like power and cooling solutions.
As budgets shrink, more CIOs are looking to stop the drain on the opex front and are making capex decisions that will hold them stronger in the long term.

IT managers in organisations that are more reticent can do better, by working to increase knowledge on the extended benefits of going green.

“As mentioned earlier, the primary concern must be “does the proposed green
solution meet the business requirement”? Once you get across that, the other
considerations are power consumption, efficient use of resources, recyclablity of
the components. Constant awareness, and recognition or exposure of organisations
that are successfully deploying green solutions are essential weapons for explaining better the benefits that come with green IT,” says De Bono.

“There are many IT investments IT managers probably want to make anyway that will also reduce your impact on the environment. Cloud computing, virtualisation technologies, server consolidation, PC power management and deployment of more efficient equipment when you do a refresh can reduce energy consumption while simultaneously improving IT operations,” says Vaidya.

He adds, “Awareness campaigns explaining what green IT really means to business and how to incorporate it into every business aspect with minimal changes to the way things are done would help more companies move towards green IT.”

In the perfect data centre world, servers could sit in a shed sans any kind of air conditioning, relying on free outside air to stay sufficiently cooled. That vision may draw closer to reality: ASHRAE not long ago adjusted the recommended temperatures for operating servers; Dell recently announced an array of servers,
storage and networking equipment capable of peration in temperatures upto 113 degrees F; and vendors like Intel have conducted experiments to determine just
how resilient servers can be.

“Implementing sustainable ICT solutions takes the collective efforts of an organisation. Senior management is crucial to driving high-level initiatives, with
individual employees playing a key role in the maintenance and optimisation of these
systems. The fact is that energy consumed by network equipments, power systems
and data centres take up an increasingly larger proportion of total energy consumption, so in addition to having the right mindset, applying the right technical
solutions is equally important,” states Xu.

But till we reach that ideal, it is left upto individuals in organisations to lead the way, and it is time that more IT managers pick up the cudgels for the green cause.

“It starts with the individual, whether they are top management, or a lower level employee, or a hardware or software engineer. Waiting for others to start environmental friendly approaches is really an attempt to pass the responsibility on to others. If we all do our little piece, we can make a difference, and if that is as simple as feeling better about ourselves as individuals, then that is fine. Remember all we can truly influence is our immediate sphere or space, and if we focus on that, then we have made a start or a move in the right direction,” concludes De Bono.

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