Finding new energy

Weakened by mass marketing, green IT is entering a new phase with a sharpened message around power and efficiency

Listening to a lot of the communications flying around at the moment, I can't help but think we're seeing a change in approach to 'green IT' that can only be good for the market and, in turn, the environment.

The first wave was something of a wild west that saw the industry trying to ride the wave of public awareness created largely by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and the seemingly endless media coverage dedicated to our impact on the world we live in.

This heightened sense of awareness had an impact on many industries, and created some interesting discussion but, before you could say 'polar icecap', every company putting an electricity plug on a product had a green story to tell.

A noble concept quickly found itself caught in a flood of marketing and lost most of its impact. In the user community, a large majority expressed a desire to do something to minimise the environmental impact but admitted they weren't sure exactly how to go about it. As the marketing buzz got louder, confusion was heightened by suspicion and impetus was lost.

The onset of a lull following an initial surge is a frequently seen market dynamic. It's a step on the road to maturity that needs thought leaders to pick up the baton and inject fresh momentum. That's where we're at with green IT.

Phase one determined that IT was a contributor to environmental degradation, that there were ways this could be reduced, and that organisations were prepared to act, but only if environmental benefit could be tied to cost reductions. Business wanted to be seen to have a conscience but wasn't about to let its heart rule its head.

Phase two, if we can call it that, has taken this feedback and come back with a sharpened message based on energy efficiency. It's well documented that the price of energy is going to go through the roof in the years ahead - a frequently used example tells us that power and cooling will account for more than half the cost of running a datacentre within three years - and this looks like a massive consulting opportunity for the integration channel.

Just last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to introduce its first Energy Star rating for servers by the end of the year. Designed to help users identify the most energy-efficient products on the market, the EPA has introduced Energy Star across more than 50 categories of product including desktops, monitors, ceiling fans and even windows.

Servers promise to be one of its most problematic assignments because of the wide variety of work these machines do. Consequently, getting vendors to agree on the benchmarks to be used for testing promises to be about as much fun as herding cats. But despite the inherent difficulties, it's a step in the right direction and it would be good to see energy ratings introduced globally across all IT categories at some stage.

In the meantime, the energy issue will remain central to the green IT debate.