Friday, August 13, 2010

Color me Green!

Standing alongside a shopping mall I was surprised by a Toyota Prius hybrid gliding by, almost unnoticeable running on its electric motor. The frenetic love affair with the Prius among Californians, and the arrival of even more hybrid models, is evidence that they are increasing their market-share across the car-buying public. And for good reason – business can no longer ignore the requirement to lessen the need for energy.

Buried within the prospectus for General Motors’ IPO, which will shortly take place, are several references to GM’s upcoming Volt hybrid car that is being marketed heavily as a good reason why investors should buy GM stock once the company sheds its government ties and returns to the public markets. In placing the spotlight so brightly on the Volt, GM is assuring investors and consumers alike, that it recognizes the pressure it’s under to provide the types of cars the marketplace is favoring.

GM isn’t the only car manufacturer wooing the financial marketplace. Just recently, Tesla Motors, Inc (TSLA), the first company to market an electric vehicle (EV), went public and after climbing quickly to $30 it has now settled to around $20 per share, giving the company a market cap of around $148 million. Perhaps not all that impressive, but Tesla is the first car company to complete an IPO since Ford, and the public expects big things from this tiny Silicon Valley based start-up!

The photo above is of a Waste Management truck pulling next to me as I left the shopping mall, and I couldn’t resist snapping off a quick photo. For as long as I can recall these trucks were a murky brown, but no longer. Today they are painted green to assure the community that Waste Management is now doing its part in support of the environment! To impress us with the scope of the commitment, vehicles are adorned with a sign informing us of how “last year we recycled enough paper to save over 41 million trees!”

Before leaving Boulder on my latest road-trip I caught the editorial of a local weekly paper. In it the writer bemoaned how little we were doing to get other countries to become more proactive in reducing pollution. It was time to boycott products from these countries, he went on to demand, before adding that it was no longer good enough for Boulder residents to simply plant a protest sign in their front lawns!

When it comes to IT however, and the impact IT has on the environment, are we content with just planting a sign in the grass, protesting loudly about our dependence on non-renewable energy sources, our concerns about the forests, and about us not withdrawing the support for those who continue to pollute? Or are we beginning to feel pressure from our shareholders and management to do something more proactive to reduce our carbon footprint? Are we looking at ways to reduce our energy consumption and are we considering how to better augment our current power source with something more sustainable?

Two items that have caught my attention of late seem to suggest we may have to get serious within IT when it comes to saving energy, and in doing so reduce our carbon footprint. The creation of the European Climate Exchange (ECX), the leading marketplace for trading carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as well as the establishment of the voluntary Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), where businesses voluntarily report on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change strategies, are two significant initiatives I believe, that are headed in the right direction.

The CDP initiative kicked off early in the 2000’s and is an effort to get ahead of the curve and possibly stall further government intervention. The idea is that companies will want to tackle the issues themselves and to this end, the CDP has come up with a Carbon Disclosure Rating that has just begun to appear in company financial results. Grouped among key business performance metrics, such as Operating Margin, Return on Assets / Equity, and Number of Employees, you are now likely to see the Carbon Disclosure Rating. With only a handful of businesses registering as early as 2003, today there are more than 2,500 publically traded enterprises that participate!

Probably a little more controversial, of course, are the exchanges dealing in CO2 emissions trading or as they are better known, Cap and Trade, where the objective is to provide a market-driven approach to reducing pollution. Once a cap has been established, business needs to buy one or more permits, essentially to keep on polluting. However, if they exceed the cap, they need to buy additional permits and these will come available only from those businesses that reduce the pollutants they produce. “In effect, the buyer is paying a charge for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions … in theory, those who can reduce emissions most cheaply will do so, achieving the pollution reduction at the lowest cost to society,” was how one source I checked talked about it!

For most of us, this is still all very much macro level pursuits, and even after talking with those actively involved in this area, it’s difficult to translate into something we can relate to – let alone begin to connect it with what we routinely do in support of business applications. Very few of us can influence where the next data center will be built or what energy sources we will choose, and when it comes to NonStop, there’s still the ever present concern about its future. Why would we want to do anything other than stick a sign in the grass saying yes, we’re concerned! However, this is a situation that’s not going to change any time soon, and businesses will be looking to their IT managers to do something that’s tangible and not just simply window-dressing. It also has to be something that’s sustainable and affordable given the current mantra to do more with less!

Recently I was sitting through a presentation by folks from Integrated Research (IR) when they introduced me to a new product, PowerMinder. I thought I was pretty familiar with the products on offer from IR but this caught me by surprise. Turns out that as they continue to leverage the PROGNOSIS product and embrace adjacent markets, the work they have been doing in telephony and with managing Voice over IP (VoIP) telephones for IR partners like Cisco and Avaya, they took a look at how best to save money given the number of telephones businesses deploy these days, and came up with the capability to power them down when not in use.

However, the technology that they developed soon took on broader appeal when they morphed the product into managing PCs – its’ been reported that in some applications, like call centers, there could be as many as thousands, even tens of thousands, of PCs turned on needlessly for many hours in the day. Shutting them down in a managed manner and then providing reports on everything from user power-down behavior before and after use, to more complex reporting on power use that covers cost (when powered on), power consumption, CO2 equivalent, etc. will equip IT management with the tangible and sustainable information businesses expect today.

Just how much is saved with something like PowerMinder? This is where it becomes very interesting. For a business with 1,000 PCs in America, and where the PCs already carry an ENERGY STAR endorsement, being able to turn off just 36%, or a little more than a third when not in use, accounts for some $40,000 in electricity savings ($120,000 over three years) and enough electricity to light 240 homes, as well as avoiding 350 tons of greenhouse gas emissions that is the equivalent to removing as many as 60 cars from the road.

What I really liked about the approach taken by IR is that they have come up with some truly unique ways to make this technology easy, quick and simple to deploy. PC users can elect to opt out and can override, should they want to continue running overnight for whatever reason. There’s a subset of IR’s PROGNOSIS embedded into the product in order to provide the reporting, but users will never see PROGNOSIS or need to be sensitive to any server configuration requirements – its all Windows based today.

However, as the product completes its initial trials and moves to general availability status, there’s absolutely no issue with pulling the information into NonStop, for instance, and integrating the data into existing displays perhaps as part of a “sustainability dashboard!” Unlike more traditional product packaging and pricing models we may associate with IR, PowerMinder will be based on the number of PCs to be managed and with an ROI achieved in under a year!

For most of this year I have been developing posts around new solutions and have included coverage for vendors like AJB Canada, Lusis, and Opus but it’s also important not to forget about the important role played by infrastructure vendors. The NonStop platform would be very much the poorer without them and while I may not embrace everything I find with similar passions, I will do my best to highlight those products and solutions I believe will help encourage wider usage of the NonStop platform.

It’s early days, of course, for PowerMinder and IR have a lot of marketing work ahead of them, but I am always encouraged whenever I see company’s intimately associated with NonStop branching out to address the needs of business on a grander scale! This is where I get even more enthusiastic – a new application for NonStop, and one right in the cross-hairs of CIOs, who have to provide the business executives with concrete proof of the steps being taken to reign in the carbon footprint.

This is a lot more tangible than painting our data centers green or sticking protest sign in the lawn! It’s probably even more viable than some of the auto industries most recent IPO filings….

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