The cost-effective sustainability options IT is missing

Published on the 18/06/2024 | Written by Heather Wright

The cost-effective sustainability options IT is missing

Low cost, high impact winners…

IT teams are missing the boat when it comes to truly capitalising on cost-effective IT sustainability initiatives, which can provide real benefits for companies beyond just sustainability – but it’s a good idea to remain sceptical on claims.

Ed Anderson, Gartner distinguished VP analyst, says most organisations are already doing a lot of things to drive sustainable IT – but not to the extent they could.

“Many of the techniques for sustainable IT are under-utilised and under exploited.”

“As an example, we find when they’re using cloud services – which is a great mechanism to improve their sustainability posture, they haven’t moved all their workloads over and are maybe only 30 percent of the way down the road on their migration,” Anderson told iStart.

Recent Gartner research shows some of the most cost-effective sustainable IT initiatives have less than a 30 percent adoption rate among surveyed IT and business leaders.

Gartner says executives can stretch their IT budgets by implementing six cost-effective sustainable IT initiative: analytics-driven refreshes, UPS rightsizing, sustainable UX, enhanced cooling, purchasing refurbished assets and engaging with vendors to evaluate sustainability during RFP processes and also collaborate with them on making progress over time.

“Many of the techniques for sustainable IT are under-utilised and under exploited,” Anderson says.

“You’re probably already doing some of these things, so take advantage of it, do more, take it to scale so you can get the real benefits,” Anderson says.

He says there are plenty of reasons companies might want to up their sustainability in IT.

“There is a direct correlation when you’re using things like cloud to reduction in costs. We also find overwhelmingly that organisations and businesses say when they adopt or prioritise sustainability, they end up adopting more modern technologies and innovations and get a benefit from modernised operations. They talk about their products being better, and having better efficiency in their operations,” he says.

Indirect benefits include employees and customers tending to prefer organisations that have a ‘responsible’ stance, not just for sustainability but across other areas as well, including social issues. There can also be positive investor and shareholder impacts.

A Gartner survey found cloud was the top priority for reducing IT greenhouse gas emissions over the next three years, for 34 percent of respondents, followed by on-premises data centres (27 percent) and digital workplace, including hardware and employee devices 20 percent).

But with cloud providers making various claims about carbon neutrality and net zero ambitions, CIOs need to push cloud providers for more details about the performance of the specific data centres that will support their operations, along with details about power usage effectiveness and how they are managing the environmental impacts of IT devices, Gartner says.

(As an aside: Plans for hydropowered data centres in New Zealand’s south island – harnessing the excess power that would have been available with the closure of the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter – took a hit recently with the news that the smelter will continue after inking 20 year power deals with Meridian, Contact and Mercury.)

“All of us should be sceptics,” Anderson says. “We should look at the details and try to understand the reality behind some of the claims.”

While he shares some scepticism that not all cloud data centres are powered by renewable energy and many of the claims are supported by effectively offsetting or buying renewable energy certificates, he says overall the concept of cloud, and in practice most of the cloud services available, operate in a sustainable manner that may be ahead of private organisations.

It’s not all down to cloud operators, either, he adds.

“Just because you put your application in a cloud environment doesn’t mean that all of a sudden it is going to run in a sustainable manner.

“The cloud services are just IT resources that are available on demand. So if you procure a bunch of resource that you don’t need and are not using, it’s still going to burn energy and it’s not sustainable. You have an obligation as a customer to make sure you are architecting your solutions to use cloud systems optimally, and that you’re making smart decisions about where workloads run.”

Data centres within a hyperscale provider will have individual differences, he notes.

“You should be doing real time monitoring to figure out what resources you are using. It’s a good idea anyway because you can optimise your cost when you do that, but you can find systems that you probably don’t need to have running right now. Or you might find there are times of the day when you’re more likely to be able to access sources of renewable energy and maybe if you have discretion on when certain workloads run, you should time them with those events.”

While cloud might be a key sustainability lever

Anderson says one area where some companies are finding wins is virtualisation – enabling them to get more value, or capability, out of existing assets.

“Part of that is using things like virtual desktops, cloud-based services, some of the workforce management capabilities, workplace productivity tools – those can be really optimised using virtualisation technologies.”

Eliminating low value assets – including data that’s never used and of no value – is also an area of wins for improved sustainability of digital workplaces.

And it’s not just data.

“There are more effective ways to do fail over than just to replicate your data centre somewhere else, which used to be best practice.

“What sort of redundancy do you need? How much fail over capability do you have? People are looking at things like that.”

When it comes to power systems, he says many companies are over-supplied and should look at rightsizing power systems.

Anderson says the first requirement for any CIO or IT team is to understand where they are now.

“There are many organisations that are still trying to understand what their sustainability posture is – are they a large carbon emitter or a small one? Where are you overall?”

After establishing the baseline, he says it’s time to think about where your sustainability impact comes from, from the servers to workstations, data centres and staff travel movements.

“Every organisation is different and every organisation needs to think about their own situation,” he says of the most likely culprits and biggest areas of opportunity.

“I will say that we do find there are significant inefficiencies when people try to run a lot of legacy services – old equipment, old data centre technologies, where they don’t do much outsourcing, they haven’t leveraged new technologies like cloud as an example, or are using poor power management. Those are easy targets,” he says.

“Most organisations are really optimised for cost benefit – trying to do as much as they can for as little cost as possible.

“What we’re saying is bring sustainability into that conversation as well, so you’re not only thinking about trying to operate the business, but trying to do it in the most sustainable fashion you can and that will help elevate some of those things that may not be fully exploited today. It will bring them more to the forefront.”

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