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CIO’s Get Plugged in to Energy

| Wednesday September 15th, 2010 | 2 Comments

It is likely that Chief Information Officers (CIO) will be increasingly tasked with finding ways to reduce energy consumption in their corporations, if they haven’t become engaged already. According to a report released earlier this year by the Society for Information Management (SIM), CIOs are being urged to become familiar with energy informatics, a new subfield wherein information systems are applied in order to optimize energy supply and demand. Energy informatics uses sensor networks to gather information about the use of energy consumption and distribution systems and can then optimize operations. The push to get CIOs more involved in a company’s energy portfolio, whether through informatics or otherwise, is a necessary one.

According to an article on Forbes.com, the majority of CIOs have never even seen a power bill. In most organizations, the power bill is handled by the facilities department, although the technology used inside commercial and governmental buildings across the country can consume as much as 40 percent of total power used.

Connecting IT with the facilities team can spur discussions on where and how to reduce consumption. The old adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure certainly holds true here. Once the CIO knows how much power their servers, computers and associated cooling systems are consuming, they are likely to find ways of becoming more efficient.

Robin Johnson, CIO at Dell, shares examples of how they identified some low-hanging fruit and immediately began to see savings. The mere arrangement of a data center can significantly impact energy efficiency. Two server racks, for instance, that are facing front-to-back are mixing hot and cold air together and therefore lowering the efficiency of the cooling process. As Johnson states, by rearranging your data center you can reduce power bills and improve system efficiencies by 20 percent or more. In addition, the introduction of virtualization software is also helpful, as it allows one machine to do the work of many, which in turn helps to save money and power.

CIOs in government agencies should also get plugged in to their energy consumption data. Every time a government agency purchases hardware or software without assessing the energy related costs or determining whether or not the service needed can be provided by existing technology, taxpayers pay the bill. As the single largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy, the federal government is also being required to make changes.

In June of this year, President Obama announced his plans to dispose of unneeded federal real estate, which included a directive that all agencies immediately adopt a policy against expanding data centers and develop plans to consolidate and significantly reduce existing data centers within 5 years, specifically citing growing energy expenses as a concern. The renewed focus on energy efficiency, both in the private and public sector, is refreshing and displays a strong commitment, even though there is still much to be done.

It isn’t only about CIOs getting plugged into the energy puzzle, they also have to be empowered with the authority and responsibility to take corrective action. If the CIO isn’t invested and supported by other key stakeholders, then an organization’s power bill, according to Johnson, “is just another slip of paper.”


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  • http://www.cose.org/blog Tim Kovach

    This article brings a lot of important points about energy management and IT to the table. The different departments within a business/organization need to work together in order to achieve any substantive energy efficiency or sustainability goals. If different departments stay within their respective silos, then it is not reasonable to assume that the organization will be able to accomplish its efforts. It is definitely important to the IT and facilities departments on the same page, but there is more to it than just that. Sustainability and energy efficiency cannot be relegated to one person, one team, or even one whole department. As many different departments as possible must have a seat at the table. This is why diversity not just of ideas and perspectives but of department and job function is essential for any successful green team. Some departments may not realize the impact that their practices have on the triple bottom line, other may not understand that they can make simple changes if they work together. By having these lines of collaboration and communication open, the organization can achieve far more than it could if disparate areas work on their own.

    At the Greater Cleveland Partnership/COSE, our IT and facilities managers work together regularly. This enables us to monitor a number of different energy components from thermostat settings to server energy consumption. But no matter how well your organization is set up to enable energy savings or sustainability, cross-departmental communication and collaboration is a vital component.

    – Tim Kovach
    Product Coordinator, Energy Programs at COSE
    http://www.cose.org/blog
    http://www.twitter.com/COSEenergy

  • Cory Vanderpool

    Thanks for the comment Tim. Couldn’t agree more.