Green Computing Still Held Back By Costs

A recent study by computer retailer CDW shows that most IT decision makers believe in making their technology infrastructure greener and more energy efficient. But more than half of those surveyed cite cost as the main obstacle, and see the impact on the environment and on their company’s image as greater benefits than the cost savings from a reduced power bill.

Those results seem at odds with reports from analysts that suggest green, power-efficient computing is just around the corner and is being driven by spiraling energy costs. Most forecasts show computing power costs will have a real impact on companies soon: Gartner projects that by 2010, 75 percent of companies will consider the energy and CO2 footprint of hardware during purchasing.

Computing itself is a major energy-sucking culprit, and IT power consumption will only rise in the future. In August 2007, the EPA estimated that data centers consumed roughly 61 billion kWh in 2006. That’s about 1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption, which cost $4.5 billion. And it’s expected to increase to 100 billion kWh by 2011 — 2.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption, which would cost approximately $7.4 billion.

Today, for every dollar the industry spends on data center hardware, it spends 50 cents on energy for things like power and cooling. And energy’s portion of that is growing. Computing power researcher (and a speaker at GigaOM’s Structure 08 conference) Jonathan Koomey estimates that total electricity used by servers by 2010 will be 76 percent higher than it was in 2005.

It’s not just the data centers, though. Monitors, printers and other technology systems need to be upgraded to support green standards like Energy Star. LCD screens, for example, consume roughly a third of the power of CRT monitors. And while CRTs are on their way out, it takes time to replace that aging technology.

Ultimately all the green computing upgrades will take a significant investment, and as the results of the survey show, more than half of the firms don’t yet perceive the importance of the long-term power cost savings, and they see initial green upgrade investment as an obstacle. How long will it take perceptions to line up with the forecasts?

We’re not sure, but the rate of green IT adoption will be different for different sectors. While most big businesses surveyed have already started greening their technology landscape, small businesses are much further behind. According to the survey, green initiatives within smaller firms are almost always driven by a senior executive.

Government buyers are also slower than corporate buyers to adopt green tech, despite the rising energy costs they face. That same EPA study estimated that federal servers and data centers consume 6 billion kWh of electricity, for a total electricity cost of about $450 million annually — roughly 10 percent of U.S. data center consumption.

As energy costs continue to climb and trends like cloud computing centralize power consumption, expect to see small businesses and government embrace green technology the way larger organizations have started to. They’ll have to, because the cost savings will deliver a real competitive advantage, and organizations that don’t step up will get left behind.