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Green ROI: CompTIA’s Strata Green IT Certification

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In earlier articles, we looked at the Strata program from CompTIA and introduced the Green IT certification. We started breaking down the objectives of CompTIA’s Strata Green IT certification exam (number FC0-GR1) with an eye toward what you need to know in order to be successful on this exam and earn the certification. The focus of this article is Section 2.1: Develop and implement an internal IT strategy analyzing ROI for the Green IT initiative. With the move to Section 2 of the exam, the focus shifts to green IT policies and standards.

In earlier articles, we looked at the Strata program from CompTIA and introduced the Green IT certification. We started breaking down the objectives of CompTIA’s Strata Green IT certification exam (number FC0-GR1) with an eye toward what you need to know in order to be successful on this exam and earn the certification. The focus of this article is Section 2.1: Develop and implement an internal IT strategy analyzing ROI for the Green IT initiative. With the move to Section 2 of the exam, the focus shifts to green IT policies and standards.

Establishing Metrics

Just like any organizational strategy, diving head first into major green IT initiatives without proper planning will more often than not result in lost time, money, and energy. The first step toward crafting a successful strategy (and also the first objective of this section of the Green IT exam) is to establish clear objectives and goals. Reference company-wide policies and stances on environmental responsibility, consult stakeholders at all levels and departments of the organization, and invite these individuals to contribute to discussions about IT developments. Remember, the most successful green IT strategies are closely tied to other objectives throughout the organization, not stand-alone endeavors.

The process of making an IT department more environmentally-friendly can be measured in a variety of ways, and each organization must identify the metrics that will be most measurable and meaningful. Goals may be stated in terms of energy conserved, waste reduced, money saved, organizational adoption rate, and more. Likely, a mixture of these metrics will prove to provide the most complete illustration of the effectiveness of green IT undertakings. Set realistic but challenging goals and designate a point person to be responsible for their measurement and adjustment.

Once meaningful metrics have been established, perhaps the most challenging task of green IT—calculating return on investment—can begin. Regardless of the size of the organization, measuring energy and paper usage (and subsequent cost) of running an entire IT department often seems overwhelming, if not impossible. The simplest method of tackling this challenge is to start with electricity consumption. Physically count the number of PCs, printers, servers and other equipment used across the organization. Combine these totals with product-specific electricity consumption figures to calculate a rough estimate of the energy your equipment is using. Furthermore, don’t forget about the utilities that keep this equipment functioning—heating, cooling, lighting, and more. If you can’t find estimates for your IT department specifically, multiplying building-wide totals by the percentage of total square footage your department occupies is a worthwhile place to start.

Data center administrators reference two metrics introduced by green IT consortium The Green Grid and adopted industry-wide for benchmarking purposes: Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency (DCiE). To find PUE, divide the total amount of electricity needed to maintain your IT facilities by the energy required to power your IT equipment. For instance, if the servers and storage equipment in your data center require 50,000 kW and an additional 25,000 kW is needed for the auxiliary equipment that keeps that data center running (i.e., cooling, lighting, monitoring equipment) your PUE is 1.5 (75,000 / 50,000). The more efficient a data center becomes (requiring less energy to perform its essential processes), the smaller its PUE gets. DCiE is calculated through the inverse of the PUE equation. In the example above, the data center has a DCiE of 0.67 (50,000 / 75,000).

We should take a moment to note that PUE, DCiE, and all other green IT metrics are ineffective measures if not monitored repeatedly and consistently. A single calculation may produce results that look impressive compared to industry standards but are still inefficient for the IT setup being tested. So select your metrics and measure them as often as feasible (real-time analysis is preferable). Don’t forget to collect readings from different times of day and different days of the week to see how energy efficiency changes with fluctuating strain on your equipment.

After calculating valuable metrics such as PUE and establishing plans for consistent measurement, continue your assessment of the IT department by monitoring green habits other than electricity usage. Start observing network-wide printing habits: by keeping tabs on the number of sheets being printed daily, weekly, and monthly, you can not only identify cycles that cause fluctuations in printer use throughout the organization, but also see how these totals are affected when paired with your green IT initiatives. Check out freeware programs such as PaperCut to find a print logging solution compatible with your network to make network-wide paper and ink usage easier to measure.

Focus on ROI

Once you have a clear idea of how much energy and resources are required to keep your current IT setup running, monetizing these findings—as well as your proposed green strategy—makes attaining an accurate ROI for the project a more manageable task. Work with your utilities companies, your organization’s purchasing department, and cross-functional teams to find out how much each kilowatt, sheet of paper, and page of ink cost. Compare your current totals to the expected totals of your green strategy to see how the economics of proposed initiatives break down. Finances may not be the expertise of IT professionals, but understanding when and how environmentally-conscious choices become profitable is essential for convincing upper management to adopt them. For projects such as environmental disposal that are more challenging to measure monetarily, take into account tax breaks and the economic benefits of improved company reputation that results from environmentally-sustainable operations.

Let’s look at a simple example of how ROI is calculated when greening an IT department. An organization replaces cathode-ray tube monitors with LCD monitors and begins using compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout the office. This results in a $3,000 reduction in energy costs. Additionally, efforts to keep paperless records and reduce printing lead to an additional $2,500 in savings. These two initiatives cost the organization $5,000 to implement. Return on investment is found with the formula [(Profit-Investment) /Investment]. So for this example, the ROI is 10% [(5,500-5,000) /5,000]. Reaching a well-founded ROI allows green strategies to be weighed and assessed like any other organizational undertaking.

Project Management

The Green IT exam also lists project management as an objective for candidates, and it is undeniable that a strong green IT strategy must be paired with an equally strong green project management strategy to be carried out successfully. All team members on any given project must be made aware of the environmental and economic benefits of the project on themselves, their department, and the organization as a whole. If green initiatives are undertaken with only the IT department or a few members of the organization understanding their purpose and advantages, adoption rates will lag and the costs of undoing actions or purchases that contradict the strategy will damage ROI. As we mentioned earlier, each project requires a point person who communicates its purpose to the affected stakeholders, measures implementation and success rates, and adjusts the project for maximum results during its duration. Putting others in charge of green projects also encourages enthusiasm and ownership of the strategy across the organization.

The Full Life Cycle

Your IT equipment has an environmental impact both before and after it is in use by your department. The sustainability of production techniques, shipment, disposal, and recycling must all be taken into account to produce the most accurate assessment of your environmental impact. One process that makes a significant impact on an organization’s carbon footprint but often gets overlooked as green IT strategies are being rolled out is product shipment. With every new equipment order for your department, explore ways to reduce the environmental impact of getting it to you. Combine orders, find local suppliers, and select shipping companies working to reduce their own carbon footprint.

Similarly, don’t assume your job is over once old equipment has been dropped off at a disposal or recycling facility. Inspect the companies you partner with for these services to make sure that out-of-service machines are being transported and broken down in safe and smart ways. Your green IT responsibility is all-encompassing—don’t think it ends when you walk outside your company’s doors.

Power Redundancy

The Green IT exam challenges candidates to “identify needs and cost effectiveness of power redundancy on a system that does not require 24/7 use or access.” Power redundancy—running multiple power sources to increase reliability and prevent significant downtime in the event of power failure—should come under close scrutiny as green IT initiatives are formulated. While system reliability is no doubt a primary IT concern, green IT departments configure workspaces to share redundant power supplies between systems that do not have to be fully functioning at all times. When a single uninterruptible power supply provides reliable back-up to multiple components of the system, power redundancy becomes less redundant and subsequently more cost-effective and energy-efficient.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 400,000 uninterruptible power supplies will soon be in use across the country, putting the adoption of greener technology in this area at the forefront of IT sustainability. For more information on green power supplies, visit EnergyStar.

The Carbon Footprint

The final objective listed in this section of CompTIA’s Green IT exam instructs candidates to calculate and understand the carbon footprint of their organization. Carbon footprint is a much wider-reaching measurement than the metrics we have mentioned earlier in this article because instead of simply looking at the electricity used by a server room or paper used by office printers, it measure the amount of greenhouse gases released to make these processes possible. As climate change becomes one of the most prominent issues within the field of environmental sustainability, understanding greenhouse gas emissions and how they can be diminished becomes increasingly important. Effective carbon footprint calculations must take into account product delivery, business travel, employee commuting habits, and more. In upcoming articles, we will discuss some of the less obvious changes to an IT department—car pooling, video conferencing, and compressed workweeks—to condense carbon footprints.

The Environmental Protection Agency makes available a number of resources for businesses to help you better understand your carbon footprint and how it can be reduced; included on the EPA website is a simplified footprint calculator and advice on setting organizational emission reduction goals.

This completes the discussion of the topics beneath objective 2.1 and should provide you with the information you need to know for this portion of the exam. In the next installment, we will take a detailed analysis of objective 2.2: Identify Green IT framework assessment tools, organizations, and standards.

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