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Greener, leaner IT lowers costs, boosts efficiency

Market forces, such as the fluctuations of commodity prices, play a role in how SMBs operate and compete. These days, energy is perhaps the most influential of all commodities, and its impact upon SMBs can be tremendous. According to a recent report issued by IBM entitled IT energy efficiency for small and mid-size business: Good for business and the environment, energy costs now represent the single largest operating cost increase for SMBs, regardless of industry.

But as midsized company Oceanic Worldwide discovered, smaller companies can actively counter the impact of outside forces—including energy expenses—and help the environment along the way.

Rising energy prices drive changes in IT planning

Concerns about operational efficiency figured largely into plans for growth at California-based Oceanic Worldwide, a supplier and designer of scuba diving equipment. Company management noted the continual rise of IT-related energy costs, and worried that these expenses might eclipse other budgetary matters—as well as contribute to environmental problems.

Oceanic Worldwide was right about IT-related energy costs and concerns. According to its Worldwide Server Power and Cooling Expense 2006–2010 Forecast, research firm IDC says that for every dollar spent on IT equipment, 50 cents goes to energy. By 2010, says IDC in the same report, 70 cents of every IT dollar will be devoted to powering and cooling these devices. To put these numbers in perspective, the amount of money spent to operate and cool a server averages $550 a year. And as companies grow, they typically add more servers, which create larger utility bills and potentially greater environmental consequences.

One of the reasons that energy costs spiral for SMBs like Oceanic can be found in the widespread "one-to-one-to-one" hardware approach, where each server hosts only one operating system that, in turn, runs a single application. Not only are these environments expensive, but they also promote IT inefficiency because multiple servers operate at a fraction of their computing capacity.

At Oceanic, the one-to-one-to-one approach was not only impeding company growth, but the resulting server sprawl made it difficult to keep information accessible. According to Rick Eggleston, Senior Systems Consultant at IBM Business Partner Meridian IT, "Backups weren't done every night" putting the company at risk for data loss.

Leaner and greener IT reduces operational pressure

Eggleston points out that although Oceanic ran its operations on only a handful of servers, the company had more hardware assets than it really needed. For Oceanic, hardware consolidation provided the cure for its IT growing pains.

Using virtualization technology, the company consolidated its servers onto a single blade system, which hosts two operating systems, and runs multiple applications for printing, order tracking, shipping, financials and inventory. This simplified IT environment also reduced energy consumption at Oceanic, as well as cut down the amount of time the company spent administering its IT.

Beyond saving space and energy, consolidating with blade servers also increases data integrity since less hardware reduces technical complexity making it easier for short-handed SMBs to maintain the system. As Eggleston points out, "You have one backup done each night, and you can ensure that everything is getting backed up."

Other areas where SMBs can be more efficient through green IT solutions include:

Green IT: Good for business, good for the environment

"The nature of our business gives us a firsthand look at the impact of society on the environment," says Paul Elsinga, chief financial officer for Oceanic. "So the fact that we could make changes in our IT environment that reduced costs while also doing something good for the environment was very important to us."

Recent research shows that Elsinga's firm is in good company. According to the IT energy efficiency for small and mid-size business report, 55 percent of firms worldwide plan to make significant changes to how their hardware systems operate; 33 percent say they will purchase more energy-efficient systems; 22 percent plan to consolidate their servers; and another 22 percent intend to evaluate server usage and performance.

All this goes to show that SMBs can take steps today toward incorporating the green technologies that matter—and beat the rising tide of energy-related problems.

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