Does your company's datacentre have responsibility for its electricity bills? It might seem a strange question, but believe me the answer is important.
If the answer is yes, give yourself a pat on the back. In all likelihood your datacentre receives lower power bills than those of your rivals, is better positioned to usher in the next generation of energy efficient servers, makes greater use of virtualisation software, probably has higher server utilisation levels, and is further along the path towards environmental sustainability.
If the answer is no, then sadly you are not alone.
Vendors of energy efficient servers and processors have recently been complaining that while many of their customers are increasingly concerned by energy consumption and environmental issues it remains difficult to make the case for the technology because any reduction in electricity bills often has no impact on the IT budget.
Sure customers will listen to how energy efficient servers can help them fit more servers into a datacentre and reduce their carbon footprint, but for many of them the single strongest business argument for energy efficient kit, the financial savings its delivers, often lacks the impact it should have because the IT department never even sees the electricity bills.
The scale of this problem was hammered home to me recently when I gave a presentation on green datacentres to a group of around 30 IT directors. While almost all of them were interested in the idea of environmental responsibility just one had actually taken the simplest, and perhaps most significant, step in any green datacentre strategy and gained control of their power bills.
Of course, this is hardly surprising. The importance of energy efficiency has only been an issue for IT departments for around eighteen months while electricity bills have been the domain of the facilities department for almost as long as the national grid has existed. To expect such established business divisions to be changed within a couple of years was always wishful-thinking, particularly when any changes would require facilities managers to give up one of their key responsibilities.
However, while it is not surprising that so few datacentre managers pay for the power to run their equipment, it is a cause for concern. It is no exaggeration to say that this division between IT and facilities is the single most significant obstacle slowing the development of more environmentally responsible IT departments.
Currently many IT purchasing decisions work as if the customer is buying a car where someone else has promised to pay for the petrol. The eco-warrior may go for an efficient model, but the vast majority will buy the most powerful model they can afford regardless of the lifetime running costs.
In contrast, as soon as the IT department pays for the electricity it uses it completely changes the cost-benefit analysis for any datacentre decision: the most energy efficient server suddenly becomes the most cost effective as well, the case for virtualisation software capable of driving up utilisation rates becomes stronger, investments in efficient cooling systems becomes money well spent. In short, if you get the right people paying the right electricity bills the invisible hand of the market will mean that your datacentre gets greener without you even noticing.
What's more, once the IT department has control of its electricity bills it is in a position to have its performance measured based on those bills. Personally, the first thing I would do upon bringing the electricity bill into the IT budget would be to propose to the finance director that if I can cut the bill by 20 percent within two years I get a cut of that saving as a bonus. They would be a fool to say no. I'd have a personal incentive to hit the target, if I hit it the company still saves and if I don't it's no skin off finance's nose.
Making this change may not be as visible a gesture as putting a solar panel on the datacentre roof, it may not grab the headlines in the company's CSR report and it may take some lobbying to convince your facilities department to give up some of its fiefdom. But gaining control of the datacentre's electricity bills may just be one of the most environmentally friendly and financially astute moves an IT director can make.
Molly Scott Cato reveals her hopes for the upcoming European Parliament report on the sustainable finance transition
Battery car arm of the Bolloré Group now operates electric vehicle sharing services in eight cities around the world
French think tank I4CE publishes Global Carbon Account 2018, confirming that adoption of carbon pricing policies is accelerating
Flurry of green announcements from London Summit ends with renewed pledge to 'pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels'