Make Energy Part of Your IT Strategy Document

Chief information officers (CIOs) and other information technology (IT) leaders make strategy plans, just like other business leaders. As a former CIO, I can tell you that the strength of IT strategy documents tends to spring from what the leaders know best and what they learn from their trusted advisors—and that’s IT.

By this, I mean that IT strategy documents tend to be strong on enterprise application strategy such as plans to consolidate onto a single instance of a enterprise resource planning system, on software architecture, or IT infrastructure needs such as server hardware, storage, and databases. To the extent that data center infrastructure has been part of IT strategy plans, the focus has been on the IT requirements of the data center, such as migrating to newer blade servers, or putting in better systems management capabilities. Traditionally, trusted advisors to CIOs have come from this community of IT solution providers.

What has tended to get much less attention in IT strategy documents is energy consumption and management, especially in relation to supporting power and cooling infrastructure, which can comprise 50 percent or more of energy consumption in the typical data center. Yes, some IT strategy plans are beginning to address “Green IT” via plans for virtualization, blade servers, or other measures, but power and cooling for data centers and the resulting energy outlay should also be considered as part of an IT strategy plan.

The reasons for addressing energy as part of your IT strategy document mirror the same types of reasons CIOs make IT concerns like better middleware part of an IT plan. This can include reasons like cost reduction, greater flexibility to meet changing business needs, or ensuring greater systems reliability and productivity for a global workforce.

Let’s just flesh out one of these reasons—the cost of energy use in data centers. We are talking significant expenditure here. As pointed out in the white paper, “Electrical Efficiency Measurement for Data Centers,” a 1 megawatt high availability data center can consume $20 million in electricity over its lifetime. When you consider half of those lifetime costs is probably tied to power and cooling, and when you further consider that some planning and better monitoring over power and cooling could save a big chunk of that $10 million, then you see why energy might legitimately be an important part of an IT strategy document.

By leaving energy out of the IT strategy plan, the organization tends to be reactive. Perhaps the chief financial officer suddenly realizes that data center energy cost has become one of the company’s fastest growing operational costs. That’s when the CIO is likely to get a knock on the door. Trouble is, it’s hard to get approval for the proper, longer-term remedies when you are in fire-fighting mode.

Redoing data centers to use more efficient cold aisle layouts with containment features and raised floors isn’t something you can do overnight. Other options like placing a new, large data center in a colder climate to take maximum advantage of free cooling is definitely a long term matter that’s best addressed as part of strategy planning.

The most progressive IT leaders might even look at options like private clouds and supporting data center infrastructure as a means of shedding or rebalancing loads during peak energy periods to gain energy price breaks. Little of this can be done overnight without making data center energy management an integral consideration in your IT strategy planning.

Of course, once a company makes energy part of its IT strategic plan, energy goals will factor into budget justifications, purchasing behaviors, and bring about the need for new policies and methodologies. Some companies may find it useful to define energy savvy, standard operating environments for data centers, including power and cooling infrastructure, and begin phasing in these new or expanded SOEs consistent with their plans.

I’d welcome any comments from IT leaders who have made data center energy concerns part of their IT strategy documents. If it is part of your plan, is the rationale mainly around cost reduction, and what sorts of tactics will you implement to meet your goals? Perhaps you are linking data center energy management improvements to business agility—a recognition that better energy monitoring and flexibility in managing power and cooling capacity is ultimately an enabler of a more agile company. I’d welcome your comments.

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