Selling the environment

Selling the environment

Going Green

What are the biggest environmental concerns being raised by your customers today?

Gerard Florian, Dimension Data (GF): There are probably three. The first is a concern that they don't actually have a concern yet. This is a conversation coming up in various ways and, as an example, a couple of CIOs at a quiet lunch we hosted recently said they realised the environment was an issue but they were just not sure what they should be doing about it. Secondly, those responsible for datacentres know there is an issue around power - whether it's price or availability there are some things to be done there. The other piece is from the multinationals as things that are happening in Europe start to impact tenders here. They have to make sure they are dealing with things like the Reduction of Hazardous Substances.

John Deacon, Astron Technology (JD): We are starting to see clients look at their social responsibility as corporations. They are thinking about whether they should be seen to be green but struggling to work out what that actually means. It might be carbon credits or recycling but they all recognise that they have got to do something about the datacentre and are looking for vendors to step up to the plate with management tools that can help them minimise the amount of power they are using. They want to know how they can 'down' things in the datacentre more effectively. They are struggling with what the cost of being green is and how that balances up as a return for the business.

Michael Blumentals, DPI Systems (MB): It depends on the size of the company because smaller customers that have half a dozen or 20 PCs can make them disappear. Over the course of a few weeks you could probably drop them in a wheelie bin and nobody would know the difference. But certainly with some of the larger rollouts we are doing, where you are talking in excess of 100 desktops, they want to know who is going to take old gear away and dispose of it properly. They also want to know what information is contained on those desktops. One of the problems is working out who will pay for it. It turns up in all the requests for tender and quotes but the perception is that we will do it if we get the order for new gear. That's clearly not the case because there is a significant cost associated with removing and disposing of it.

So there's no doubt the environment is part of customer discussions now but is it a factor in purchasing decisions?

Rodney Haywood, Oriel Technologies (RH): We're not really seeing it but we do have one client that has a sustainability manager. He has a budget that can be applied to any part of the business so IT can put it to their costs. The only time the environment usually becomes part of the purchasing decision is as a justification for spending money, which is why we're seeing virtualisation take off because they are spending but there are power and cooling savings.

Mark McWilliams, Datacom (MM):It depends who you are talking to. As a classic example, we did a deal with the Ministry for the Environment and of course they were very interested in it. For some other customers you can sell 500 or 1000 PCs and just as long as they're secure they really don't mind. Some organisations are more mature than others. As has already been mentioned, you have to ask who is paying because it's not cheap to dispose of equipment properly.

If some organisations are more mature than others, which are furthest down the path?

MM: Certainly the public sector because they tend to be early investors in these public-spirited endeavours. They get budget allocated to it whereas the last thing a commercial organisation wants to do is incur more costs.

Peter Robinson, Vigil Tech (PR): Certainly in my experience around the SMB market, budgets don't extend to looking at environmental issues. Part of the problem is that most of the IT groups I work with don't tend to have much control of, nor are they responsible for, the operational budgets. Things like power and cooling are of no concern to them because they are measured through capital acquisition and headcount costs.

Sean Murphy, Nexus IT (SM): I wouldn't say the environment is one of the top five things that I would take to the table but at least in the SMB market you are usually talking to a business owner with policy-making power. We put power usage on the table insofar as it attracts ROI and, in some cases where an owner has an understanding of the environment and a desire to do the right thing, he'll give you up to about 5 per cent to do a better job. But on a sub three-rack deal the ROI is very weak so you don't have very much to play with.

Shadi Haddad, Ethan Group (SH): Everybody is doing PR around the environment so CEOs want to be part of it. But CIOs don't really understand what the issues are and CEOs are telling them they have to deliver something tangible. You can sign customers up to the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Centre where they earn carbon credits but there needs to be a national framework. We are doing a bit of consultancy work around identifying what the issues are for businesses and helping them transition. We believe there will be a point where technology will be affordable enough that companies don't need to look at carbon credits. They will buy technology that is a lot greener because prices are coming down.

Phillip Allen, IDC (PA): We have been tracking [environment] trends for more than a decade but it hasn't shown up on the radar yet. The challenge is that CIOs are looking to balance between inaction and hype. How do they get that balance right? They want some clarity around exactly what the nature of the problem is. The benefit will be around public visibility into what companies are doing. If they are held accountable we will see policies developed around what the usage is and what the requirements are. There are some very simple things that can be done around reducing paper consumption and use of electricity. The vendor community has a responsibility to educate and dismiss some of the hype.

Angus Jones, HP (AJ): It's not necessarily the environment that's driving current trends; it's the limitations of the industry. We talk about heat and power all the time. Customers can't get enough electricity into their building so how do they deal with that? They've got too much heat in the datacentre so how do they deal with that? If we look at the IT industry, and where we are today, you can compare it to cars. If I asked how many people in this room drive a V8 car, chances are most would say they don't. But let's bring that back to the computer industry. To date, we put servers in a datacentre, turn them on and run everything at full power around the clock. We are being told to turn our lights off at night but the traditional approach in IT is to jump in the V8, put your foot to the floor and leave it there. We are looking at how we can make our product friendlier and deal with the issues customers have. I was listening to a guy on the radio recently who had three or four small factories. He was saying his electricity bill had gone from $30,000 to $90,000 per month. The reason that's happened is because the electricity companies have moved away from flat rate schemes to a model where you pay more during peak times. He was looking at running equipment during the night to save money. The reality is that a lot of other factors are driving the need to rethink the computer industry at the moment. There's an opportunity for all of us to tap into that and take advantage of it.

RH: I think storage is the elephant in the room because as an industry we have come up with solutions for server virtualisation and have really reduced the footprint. That's had great results in that area but we are seeing 25 per cent storage growth year-on-year. There are bits and pieces here and there but it's definitely not as well developed.

Stuart Ellis, Ingram Micro (SE): We ran a national road show recently and had a good cross-section of our partner base attend. It focused on particular areas of technology around our solution stack such as server and storage consolidation and virtualisation. One component was environmental management, particularly power and cooling projects, and the ability to cross-sell or up-sell that this might present. I was a little surprised by the lack of [reseller] focus. We need to get focused on these opportunities if we are to drive any improvements.

Does responsibility for disposing of old equipment lie with users or vendors?

MB: Definitely the user. How can it be somebody else's problem when they have bought it and extracted value? They can expect the government to provide the facilities to dispose of it but I don't think they can push it back on a vendor or reseller. The disposal process needs to be made easy and affordable.

RH: At the end of the day, the user is going to pay the cost. Even if equipment goes back to vendors they will just pass the costs back to users because they have got to make their return.

GF: People aren't going to do something just because they think it is the right thing to do but the environment is an important consideration. Many publicly listed companies are now under significant pressure from the board that they are going to be in a certain position by a certain time. Google reckons it will [become carbon neutral] by next year and knowing Google they probably will. How they do it, whether through carbon offsets or changing work practices, these organisations are going to look to the supply chain. As part of that supply chain we need to have a position that's very clear. A lot of what we are doing today is actually having a positive impact that we may not be documenting. I'm sure we are all involved in virtualisation projects but we are not necessarily capturing the before and after state so that when somebody asks in six months what we have done, we know the answer.

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