Is Green IT still smart?

Information industry analyst, Amy Wohl, and IBM® vice president for Energy and Environment Rich Lechner talk about smart and green IT being more important than ever and an arena of vast opportunity for developers.

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Scott Laningham (scottla@us.ibm.com), developerWorks Podcast Editor, IBM developerWorks

Scott LaninghamScott Laningham, host of developerWorks podcasts, was previously editor of developerWorks newsletters. Prior to IBM, he was an award-winning reporter and director for news programming featured on Public Radio International, a freelance writer for the American Communications Foundation and CBS Radio, and a songwriter/musician.



21 April 2009

Also available in Portuguese

developerWorks: This is a developerWorks podcast. I'm Scott Laningham, here with Amy Wohl and Rich Lechner. Amy is an information industry analyst following the industry for over 30 years. Rich is IBM's vice president for Energy and Environment, and responsible for the entire IBM portfolio of offerings and capabilities to help clients become more efficient and sustainable. They're here to talk about smart IT, green IT, what's up with all of that. Thank you both for doing this today.

Wohl: Thank you for having us.

Is Green IT still smart?

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Lechner: It's a pleasure.

developerWorks: Amy, maybe right off the bat here, we were talking about this just ahead of the call. Is this economic environment the kind of a thing that almost tables the whole discussion of green IT? Does that still matter? Is it still practical?

Wohl: It doesn't table it at all, Scott. As a matter of fact, one of the ways that you can save money for your company is by looking at efficiencies that green IT can bring to your company. You can actually save money and be green at the same time.

Lechner: And I'd just add to that, Scott, that, in fact, what we're finding is that the ROI on many of these so-called green-IT projects is less than 18 months. The average energy savings that we're helping clients experience is greater than 40 percent. And in many cases, there's incremental operational benefits and savings associated with these projects. And finally, in many cases, they can result in the deferral of what otherwise would be a massive capital investment in perhaps a new data center or something. So you could argue, I would argue, that green matters now more than ever in this economic environment.

developerWorks: Maybe if we can dig into the descriptions a little bit or, you know, "smart IT.| We're hearing that a lot from IBM and I, you know, they're cool words, but can you talk, Rich, a little bit more about what it means coming from IBM specifically? What does that phrase mean?

Lechner: Sure. Well, when we talk about this, you know, we characterize green infrastructure as being more than just IT. So certainly, we're absolutely helping clients focus on their data centers and their distributed IT environment, the facilities, everything from the IT equipment itself to the HVAC systems and the chillers and power supplies and all that. But more and more, we're focusing in the broader infrastructure beyond the IT equipment and the data center to general buildings: pipe floor automation systems, cell towers, vehicle fleets, etc. And, our capability to allow a client to manage and optimize energy use across that very broad definition of the infrastructure.

When we work with clients in this space, it is a variety of things, including remediating existing structures to make them more efficient. That may mean laying out the data center in a different way to improve the thermal dynamics of the data center. It may mean driving up the utilization of the IT assets through consolidation and virtualization. It certainly means helping a client implement an energy-management policy where they're focusing on monitoring energy use, managing it and optimizing for it, actually developing policies in response to energy or thermal events. And then finally, it's also about attacking the demand side of the equation. It's not just about making the infrastructure more efficient and more highly utilized but it's also about addressing data growth and application and process efficiency.

And so things like data-compression algorithms, data de-duplication software, more intelligent information life-cycle management — all of that plays a very important role because it helps reduce the rate and pace of data growth and similarly for applications helping ... delivering tools that help our applications to be deployed in a shared, virtualized, efficient infrastructure as opposed to requiring dedicated systems, for example. Leveraging SOA techniques is another example of ... so, just to give you a sense of the breadth of what we mean by green infrastructure.

Wohl: It goes beyond just what happens inside the company, it also means using Software as a Service (SaaS) so that you can share applications that someone else has written running on someone else's infrastructure if that suits your particular needs, which can be another way of having a greener way of running an application: using less infrastructure, using less resources.

developerWorks: So you're talking about, you're getting into cloud here, too, obviously, then, Amy.

Wohl: Yes, yes. Exactly.

developerWorks: Is Cloud computing, or are there other along with that technologies and concepts in this discussion that stand out to you as being the richest area of opportunity, the things that you're most excited about? Or is it really a large plate of things to consider right now?

Wohl: Well, there's so many things that it's hard to, you know, it's hard to just point to one and say this is the thing that's going to make the difference. It's a whole portfolio of things. For any one particular company, there will be some things that will give you the best results and other things that will be lower priority for that particular company, or that perhaps won't matter at all. And you'll have to, you have to sit down with the developers and the IT management in that company and try to decide what's best for the company.

Lechner: I would agree with Amy on that. It certainly is a broad set of things, like for many clients, the first thing is remediating some operational limits that they hit in the data center. Perhaps they can get more power into the data center, or they can't dissipate the heat that there. So maybe the first step is energy audit and looking for areas of opportunity.

Certainly in many clients, I found that virtualization is the single biggest lever for improving the efficiency of the infrastructure because it drives up the utilization of the assets. And when we say virtualization, we don't just mean virtualizing an x86 server using something like VMWare or Zen, but rather, also storage virtualization, desktop client virtualization, network virtualization et cetera.

developerWorks: Do we run the risk of just throwing the word green on everything? I mean, how do you all address that, that charge?

Wohl: Well, unfortunately, whenever we have a new technology we get to the point where it sort of becomes the buzzword of the hour and it gets sort of written across everything and people began to dull their interest in it because they think it doesn't mean much. So you have to figure out how to get people to understand when it really has meaning, as opposed to when it's just being used as a marketing term.

Lechner: Yes, I agree with Amy on that. There is this fear in the market and potential backlash against this notion of so-called greenwashing. That's why IBM introduced earlier this year a program that we called the Ready for Energy and Environment Certification Program. And it's different from other Ready For marks that your listeners may be familiar with from IBM, because this is a solution, this is certifying that a solution has delivered real quantified results in terms of energy reduction or water reduction or CO2 emission reduction for a client. And so it gives other potential clients a sense of confidence that this solution has, in fact, delivered results and it isn't just marketing hype.

developerWorks: I wonder, Rich, if you could talk a little bit about opportunities. I mean, again, our audience primarily software developers worldwide — opportunities that exist around all this for developers and other IT professionals.

Lechner: Certainly the focus — I'll let Amy comment, as well — but we're seeing strong interest in energy efficiency in all parts of the world. And particularly in the emerging markets where there's a rapid buildup of their infrastructure and in many cases less access to reliable power. That is to say that power outages are quite common in certain parts of the world. So having energy efficiency in the infrastructure there is particularly important.

Also I would cite that around the world we're seeing a rapid shift in the regulatory environment and the focus on energy efficiency programs and carbon reduction programs being implemented now in over 56 countries or territories around the world.

As that shifts, the need for monitoring and verification of progress made and being prepared for compliance is going to be increasingly important. That opens up many opportunities for your listeners in countries around the world.

Wohl: And don't forget that it's not just power that is in short measure. In emerging countries, it's also the amount of bandwidth that's available for connectivity. And by the way, that can be true not only in an emerging country, it can be true in a place that has very crowded places for bringing in new power.

A city like New York City, you may have data centers that literally can't run another single line into an existing data center, and so they have to think about being greener just because they either have to do that or move.

We see that there are a lot of skill sets around things like virtualization, around things like figuring out how to run hybrid applications that might run partly in the data center and partly in the Cloud that are going to be skills that people need to learn for the future.

developerWorks: I'm wondering what kind of skills are critical to develop around this. We talk about this sometimes on this podcast in regards to new markets and things: what skills will be needed? What type of skills, and from both of you, what do you see as being some critical things that people need to think about developing for these new opportunities?

Wohl: Well, one of the things that I've been talking about recently is the fact that when you look at developing for the Cloud whether it's for well-built SaaS applications that you're buying, into or whether it's for building your own applications for a private or hybrid Cloud, you are definitely going to want to be looking at SOA as an application architecture.

And that means you're going to look for people who know how to build in that environment, who know how to build services as opposed to the kinds of applications we built in the old days.

developerWorks: Rich, do you want to give IBM's thought on that, too?

Lechner: Well, I think that, again, one of the keys here is for developers to develop applications that are better designed to be more efficient, that are designed to run in a highly virtualized shared infrastructure, whether that be a Cloud infrastructure, or a private Cloud, or just a traditional virtualized environment. So that's one aspect. I think the notion of instrumenting applications and systems for energy monitoring and thermal monitoring so that these systems can be optimized for energy use is going to be something important going forward and it's not going to go away. The ability to help clients think about this new, basically it's a new service-level agreement that, you know, in addition to availability and transaction throughput and security, now energy optimization and sustainability is going to be something expected of the infrastructure. And that's important.

And finally, I would say that we are seeing a convergence of the traditional world of IT and servers and storage and networking equipment with the general infrastructure of buildings and other, you know, manufacturing mechanisms and fleets, et cetera. So bringing these two worlds together and presenting that information in a consolidated and thoughtful way is a new skill set and opportunity area.

Wohl: The thing that we want to emphasize is there are great opportunities here and even in difficult economic times those opportunities are present.

Lechner: Yes, I think the only thing, Scott, I would add in closing is that, as I said at the beginning, we firmly believe that green matters now more than ever because it does deliver significant economic benefits, it addresses substantial operational issues that clients are facing, and it prepares our clients for the rapidly emerging regulatory environment around greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency. So for all those reasons, it's a great time to be focusing on green.

developerWorks: Rich Lechner, IBM vice president for Energy and Environment, and Amy Wohl, information industry analyst. Thank you both.

Wohl: Thank you, Scott. Nice talking to you, Rich. Bye.

Lechner: Bye.

developerWorks: There's a lot of new content on developerWorks this week focused on Green IT. The feature article is a Mobile Workforce Operational Support Using Eclipse RCP. Highlighted articles include, How to Measure Employee Carbon Footprints, Part 1; Sample SOA Implementation Architecture; Meet the Experts Live Chat on April 23, Best Practices for SOA Governance with WebSphere® Service Registry and Repository the topic of that. Worry-free Power Downs on Desktops and Laptops with [Entocron], Migrate to a Virtual Linux® Environment with [Clonezilla], Build a RESTful Service on CICS® with PHP; and finally, Green Computing on AIX® and Power. Find it all at ibm.com/developerworks, IBM's premier technical resource for software developers with tools, code and education on IBM products and open standards technology. I'm Scott Laningham. Talk to you next time.

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