We Don't Need 'Green' IT

Matthew McKenzie, Editor in Chief / Community Leader | 3/23/2010 | 17 comments

Matthew McKenzie

"Green IT" is the most overhyped techno-buzzword of the decade. I'm sick of the term, and I'm tired of hearing how it will save the world.

It's not that I hate the Earth or the environment. I'm just as green as the next guy -- and that is exactly why I want to see Green IT go the way of the dodo.

The problem is that too many "green" technology claims are just a bunch of hot CO2. They offer feel-good promises wrapped up in touchy-feely language. It all looks great on paper, but it leaves CIOs hanging when it comes to one vital question: How will it really affect the bottom line?

That sounds heartless, but it's true. The sooner we face up to it, the sooner we can do the right things for the right reasons.

Virtualization is one of the most visible culprits here. A virtualized server isn't a silver bullet that stops global warming dead in its tracks. It's a tool that might allow a company to eliminate physical servers and thus cut its power costs. Whether or not that actually happens will depend upon a number of factors, many of which have little to do with virtualization technology per se.

So-called Green SOAs are an even better example. Once you untangle this web of fuzzy concepts, what you find is a number of business processes that enterprises have been practicing for years. What changed to make SOAs so green all of a sudden? Not much, except for vendors looking for a simplistic way to sell a complex, and potentially very expensive, set of technologies.

Why slam the notion of selling perfectly valid enterprise technologies in green packages? Because it practically begs to set off a backlash as companies scramble to justify IT investments that they made using less-than-realistic ROI calculations.

Fortunately, more companies are getting wise to what it really takes to turn green initiatives into bottom-line benefits. According to Symantec's "2009 Worldwide Green IT Report," more than 80 percent of IT organizations are now responsible for their data-center electricity bills. That, in turn, means that companies are now able to track their data center electricity consumption accurately -- something that very few of them could do just a couple of years ago.

That is real progress, and it opens a world of possibilities. Companies that can track their data-center power usage down to the last kilowatt can tell exactly how a particular investment will affect their infrastructure costs. They can hold a vendor's feet to the fire and separate real ROI from marketing hype.

So go ahead, throw Green IT under a hybrid bus. The really effective technologies will get by just fine without it, and we can begin to talk about them in terms that a CIO can repeat in a board meeting without getting pelted by recycled printer cartriges.

If we want to make the world a better place, that sounds like a far more realistic way to start.

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white.space   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/30/2010 1:23:44 PM
Re: Most overhyped techno-buzzword

Richard Stallman sides with Ellison on this one. "It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign," he told The Guardian. "The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we've redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do," he said. 


Of course, things have changed since Ellison's comments. Oracle has recently launched a worldwide cloud-computing tour 

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Matthew McKenzie   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/24/2010 9:46:11 AM
re: We Don't Need 'Green' IT
@zerox203: Your point about black-and-white distinctions is right on the money, Couldn't have (and didn't!) say it better myself.
Ivan Schneider   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/24/2010 4:22:59 AM
Most overhyped techno-buzzword
In keeping with the slightly annoying, lazy, zeitgeist-drafting trend of media outlets everywhere to fit everything from superheroes to the sexiest woman alive into a tournament bracket (alas, the superheroes and sexiest women are in separate brackets) , perhaps Enterprise Efficiency should sponsor a bracket of the most overhyped techno-buzzwords of the decade.

If so, I'd pick "cloud computing" over "green IT" as being more overhyped.

With "Green IT," at least you know exactly what's being discussed: reducing carbon emissions associated with IT operations. And despite its occasional misuse, it has had a salutary effect. Buyers pay much more attention to power consumption, a big element of TCO that was previously overlooked. Meanwhile, vendors are doing incredibly innovative things from server room layout to chip design.  People now quote kilowatt-hours in the same breath as GHz, and that's a big and positive change, powered by awareness and, yes, marketing.

And on the other side of the matchup, "Cloud computing" can mean anything from SaaS to virtualization to your hosted e-mail account. The moniker itself is born of ignorance, that cloud shape that's easy to draw with a marker on a whiteboard to designate something that's "not our problem," out there in the "cloud."  I'm with Ellison on this one, i.e. it's a meaningless term but if you're happier buying  software with a "cloud computing" label on it, then OK, here's some cloud computing software.

Cloud computing all the way, baby!

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zerox203   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/24/2010 12:46:11 AM
re: We Don't Need 'Green' IT
What always bothers me is the absolutism involved, whether it's in the actual process or just in the marketing. Somehow, there's a perceived notion that either you're green or you not - and vendors want you to think that you're only green if you have them.

the truth is that realistically, there isn't and shouldn't be a 'green line'. you ought to be able to do something good for the planet and the human race, and feel modestly good about it without it having to warrant a parade. Even in our daily lives, we're always doing or supporting something unhealthy in the 'green' sense, unless we live off the grid and grow our own food... and that goes double for anything resembling business. 

Yeah, if a vendor passes off a product that is the same that they've always used as 'now 50% greener' when that's based on something vague, that's despicable - but so is almost every piece of marketing ever produced. We should make informed decisions and make differences where we can - and none of us should be trying to buy into it because it's ''trendy'' in the first place.
glassjaw   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/23/2010 7:47:38 PM
Re: It's not easy being green....
Very true, Suzanne!

Being "green" has definitely taken an almost elitist double-standard where you are shunned for not jumping on the "green" bandwagon, but if you take a closer look at those proudly tooting their horns, you'll see that their efforts are only surface deep.  I feel as if the claim of being "green" and having an organization that has "green" practices is just another way to try and win with consumers and also to stay on top of current trends.
Zentropist   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/23/2010 6:12:26 PM
Re: Greenwashing = NO. Environmentally responsible = YES.
Fredric's point about "green-washing" is well taken -- while I think it's hard to argue that individuals and corporations should grow enough of a conscience to avoid being unnecessarily wasteful, a lot of the "green" movement is now being co-opted by people looking to make a fast buck or trying to reap PR value.

When it comes to IT, designing equipment to consume minimal power or perhaps augmenting power supplied via the grid or generators burning gas or diesel with alternative sources of supplemental power such as solar and wind is something to consider if circumstances favor deployment of such technology.

It's also been observed that rather than reducing paper usage, the introduction of email simply added another channel of communication that many people invariably felt the need to print, so paper usage, and the printers and ink necessary to produce hard copies of such documents, has surged as well.

Perhaps fairly simple steps such as encouraging people to turn off computers and monitors when not in use would help save some electrical costs, although many people remain convinced that this shortens the lifespan of electronic equipment.

Like any other department, I think that IT needs to find ways to operate as leanly and efficiently as possible given the size of the enterprise it is supporting and other practical and logistical constraints which are situational dependent, but I too suggest "caveat emptor" when buying into "green" claims which are unsubstantiated at best...
Fredric Paul   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/23/2010 5:13:07 PM
Greenwashing = NO. Environmentally responsible = YES.
Matt, I agree with you completely. Except that I don't.

What you're really talking about when you complain about the phrase Green IT is the idea of "greenwashing" which is ithe idea of disingenuously pretending to be environmentally sustainable just to reap the public relations benefit.


This reprehensible practice is all too common and no doubt plays a role in many Green IT claims.

But the real ideas of IT being more efficient and cutting waste and also hopefully saving money in precess... can anyone really argue with that?
Matthew McKenzie   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/23/2010 4:21:27 PM
Re: The pros and cons of puppies...
I won't argue with you on "techno-buzzword." That's a stinker.

But CIOs too dim to understand the implications? Just the opposite -- I think they understand it perfectly, and it annoys the hell out of them.

I do have a problem with the underlying issues here. Terminology -- as you so clearly point out -- sets expectations. Those expectations create pressures to respond. And that, in turn, makes companies susceptible to silver-bullet marketing hype.

I'm suggesting that it's a good idea to take a step back and look at the problem in a different way. Focus on solutions that make sound economic sense, even when they're not flashy or high-profile. Once you have a grip on power consumption costs, for example, it's possible to show that something as simple as turning all of the exhaust fans on your data-center servers to point the same direction will have a real cost-cutting impact. Phil's empasis on simply finding the "off" switch on employee desktop systems is an even better example.

Are these "green" technologies? No, they're cost-cutting measures, plain and simple.

So when it comes to the negative impact of complicated, expensive technological solutions to what is often a very simple problem, then yeah, I think the "green" monicker punches way over its weight.




Larry Fisher   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/23/2010 3:15:06 PM
Re: The pros and cons of puppies...
I'm just reading what you wrote. "Green IT" you wrote "is the most overhyped techno-buzzword of the decade" (although it's technically a phrase, but that's a nit I won't pick here). Also, "I want to see Green IT go the way of the dodo." That's a lot more than a pair of quotes on a word in a headline. 

It takes until your third paragraph to get to the meat of your argument, that "too many 'green' technology claims are just a bunch of hot C02." So, it's just the misuse of the term you have a problem with, rather than the concepts underlying Green IT. As a result, you'd censor the term from the IT vocabulary, rather than see it used correctly (or count those instances in which it is used correctly). 

I don't buy it, or the implication that CIOs are too dim to look past a Green label to understand what they're buying.
Matthew McKenzie   We Don't Need 'Green' IT   3/23/2010 2:33:46 PM
The pros and cons of puppies...
No Phil, I drink the El Cheapo brand coffee at home. It works better with a cigarette.

And I have two cats and a dog here with me. So I'm prepared to argue both sides of the great "I Hate Puppies" debate.

Seriously, though, I think you're reading a little too much between the lines in that hed. There's a reason why I put quotation marks around the word "Green."
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