Building a Case for Sustainable Networking

Author: Orcun Tezel
Technical Director, 3Com Asia Pacific
Today, discussions on green IT go beyond servers and storage equipment. Enterprises, regulators and IT leaders are beginning to look at networking from a broader perspective- in terms of how it can reduce wastage in the areas like the supply chain, productivity, and building construction and management.

Sustainable networking came to light because of the increasing importance of networking in business empowerment. The availability of cost-effective, secure, and efficient tools that support multipoint collaboration, which rely on networking, give enterprises the impetus to replace physical transportation which, according to a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is responsible for 23 percent of the world's energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Networking also plays a key role in IT infrastructure management, so much so that improvement in network infrastructure has become crucial to supporting green IT initiatives. For instance, companies that want to replace traditional desktop with thin clients will need an efficient networking infrastructure that supports delivery of low latency traffic; those that need to support mobility and remote access require efficient WAN optimization tools; and the ones that want to enable video conferencing and distribute business critical content across various sites need a consolidated data center network.

But despite the growing awareness, very few firms have actually stepped forward to integrate green networking principles on their IT roadmap, mostly due to a lack of best practices in sustainable networking.

Building a case for sustainable networking could be daunting, but here are some factors you can consider to obtain buy-in from the management and staff.

Power Consumption
Reducing power consumption is critical for companies that want to improve sustainability and reduce costs. A recent IDC research called Second Wave Sustainability, which surveyed 100 enterprises on their green IT roadmap, has found that reduction in energy costs is on top of the respondents' green IT KPIs. For instance, if you are building a data center on densely populated areas it will help accurately determine the amount of electricity you need to power your data center. Ignoring this issue may cause problems as it may take time for power companies to provide the amount of power you need to support your infrastructure. This could lead to project delays and affect your projected Returns on Investment.

The obligation to comply with national and regional green IT regulatory initiatives is the single most important reason due to which firms embark on sustainable projects, the IDC research has found. One of the current initiatives that are likely to drive Green IT in Asia is the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate initiated by Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, Korea, and the U.S. The task force, created to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technologies, is working on common standards in areas such as standby power, building efficiency, and smart metering system. Australia has the Equipment Energy Efficiency Program (E3) which covers IT equipment. Because most of these green initiatives are currently voluntary, they have been criticized for setting key variables at a level that doesn’t mandate change. However, it is not always necessary for compulsory regulation to bring change. Publication of the organization’s performance will often be sufficient as few CEOs would like their organizations named among the worst performers and suffer the negative reputation and financial consequences.

Organizational Benefits
Support of green initiatives hasn't gone much far beyond extending the use of IT to reduce wastes. Despite their awareness of the cost benefits of using non-physical meeting among teams, customers, and suppliers, few companies feel the urgency to deploy such solutions. Of those that have the capability to conduct teleconferences, only about 15 percent actually use it and only about 9 percent use video conferencing. And while 82 percent of respondents from the finance industry claim to support home-working, only 10 percent of their employees are equipped for it.

Green IT strategy needs ownership and accountability. Any initiative, green or otherwise, would fail without a coherent infrastructure to implement change. Green initiatives are often CEO-driven, although some companies have created a role similar to Chief Energy Officer that supervises sustainability projects.

What is surprising is the lack of involvement of IT organizations in the scheme of things. It need not look strange for the CEOs to give advice on how things like supply chain optimization can help reduce travel costs and help the organization save money, time, and energy.

In the recent years, we have seen an increase in the manufacture of energy efficient products, from servers to storage and networking devices. The availability of power management tools that enhance hardware efficiency in chip, memory, and disk levels is driving this trend.

Networking vendors drive energy efficiency improvements through the integration of standby features and functionality on the equipment. Power supply units have seen five percent power efficiency gains in recent years and the power consumption in each successive generation of devices has been progressively reduced. Because networking devices aren't packed with cores that generate more heat as their processing power increases they tend to benefit more from advancement in processor technology.

More sophisticated software technologies that can do traffic and application prioritization are also helping to drive sustainability activities, as are technologies that enable devices to carry out their own power management or replace other sources of power. Power over Ethernet (PoE), for instance, lets organizations use IP phones powered by the network, and the network itself can be used to switch off the phones when they are not in use.

Implementing sustainable networking programs takes more than knowledge of technology and processes. You need proper timing, management buy-in, KPIs, and the right motivation to make it work. Here are some guidelines:
Timing: Pick the right time to evaluate your networking strategy to make it sustainable. Look at the current equipment end-of-life or capital investment write-offs. Are you consolidating the infrastructure gained from M&A activities? Are there plans to implement new collaborative services?

Organizational support: While sustainable networking is traditionally a CEO-driven initiative, its success would rely on IT involvement in setting targets and determining how it can bring about change in the business environment.

Measurements: To show progress, organizations need to determine the power, consumption, equipment, age, and management characteristics of their networking equipment as they work towards making their networks ready for some of the services. They also need to ensure that power efficiency is added to the equipment's price, functionality, and performance in their technology evaluation.

Motivation: Consider all other factors beyond power consumption including regulatory environment, the company's home-working policy, and reputation benefits and risks.

Duration: Come up with short, medium, and long-term plans as there are quick, simple, and cost effective measures that organizations can implement to improve the infrastructure. Enabling power management settings, for instance, is a low-cost activity that can bring immediate savings.

Moral Dimension: Never ignore the moral dimension of sustainability. Why should your organization act in an environmentally aware and cost-effective manner? Linking your green IT projects to organizational and corporate social responsibility goals can make them easier to fund and accomplish.
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