When it comes to virtualization, do organizations really care about “green”?

The annual Educause conference is the “must attend” event for higher education IT. Link Alander, Associate Vice Chancellor Technology Services for Lone Star College System, presented an Educause conference session in Philadelphia last month titled, “The Lean and Green by Design”.  Despite Lone Star’s widespread reputation for IT innovation and despite Link’s celebrity (he filled a huge lecture hall to standing room only the previous month at VMworld), the session was lightly attended. This didn’t surprise me. After years of pushing the green benefits of virtualization, I long ago realized that it’s not much of a driver for IT decision-makers.

Virtualization and Global Warming

My efforts to promote virtualization as a “green” enabler shifted into high gear after hearing Al Gore speak at the first annual Climate Protection Summit in San Francisco. The self-proclaimed “former next president of the United States” made a strong case for the danger that global warming represented to the planet. Since data centers are the number one consumers of electricity in the country, I sniffed an opportunity to help shed awareness on the issue while boosting virtualization sales at the same time.

I wrote an article for SearchServer Virtualization titled, “A Convenient Truth: Virtualization’s eco-advantages”.  I followed this up with a comic book titled, “VirtualMan Powers Down” (1.87 MB).


We held a series of “green” seminars in conjunction with PG&E. We even came up with T-shirts encouraging clients to “Join the Fight against Global Warming”. But we consistently had trouble getting many IT personnel to show up at our events…the “green” that they care about saving is a very different shade from the environmentalist version.


PG&E Virtualization Rebates

In 2005, I approached PG&E about giving rebates to organizations that virtualized their servers. I worked with the utility to set up a program that eventually included desktops as well and which later was adopted in various forms by other utilities across the country. Ironically, the first organization to actually receive a utility check for virtualization was our client, 1*800*Radiator. As the CIO said when he spoke at one of our seminars, “Steve gave me a global warming T-shirt and I was thinking, what the heck is this for?  We’re a radiator company. We like global warming!”

A footnote on the PG&E rebate initiative: I’ve made it a policy during my entire career to freely share my knowledge with others – both inside and outside of the organization. When I wrote my first book on Citrix MetaFrame in 1999, I took some heat from our staff who felt that I was giving away our secrets to our competitors. But I believe that sharing knowledge is good for the industry, good for the organization and good for the individual. It raises the bar and challenges us to come up with more innovative ideas.

My one glaring exception to this policy, though, came about with the virtualization rebates. I felt that this program represented a true competitive advantage and other than discussing with a couple of our VMware reps who were sworn to secrecy, I tried to keep it quiet. But PG&E called VMware directly and at VMworld 2006, VMware CEO Diane Green brought the PG&E CEO on stage to announce the rebate program to the world. I realized that I had missed a potential opportunity for publicity and fanfare by trying to be petty with information sharing.

The Real Power of Power Savings

While I’m convinced that green initiatives and even the modest utility incentives are negligible drivers when it comes to virtualization, power savings in general can absolutely make a difference.

For example, one of INX’s clients, Concentra, spoke at this year’s VMworld about the challenging situation they faced. The organization had 40 VMs with which they were thrilled, but still had around 350 physical servers remaining. The physical machines were consuming so much power that a data center upgrade would soon have been required. Concentra was renting a back-up generator for $6,700 per month, and they’d already had an A/C unit fail. Yet the most monies the IT staff could typically get from Finance were $10,000 or $20,000 at a time for more memory, licensing, storage or maybe a new ESX host.

We assisted Concentra with an ROI analysis, but since the firm rarely upgraded servers, the normal dominant hardware refresh savings were not available to help IT make their case. The CIO realized, however, that the cost reduction resulting from slashing power usage alone would justify the virtualization initiative. This economic advantage was further augmented by selecting Cisco UCS as the virtualization platform which not only minimized power consumption, but which also provided a higher density of virtual machines.

IT put together a presentation for senior management and, after years of struggling to obtain monies for virtualization, received a quick go-ahead for a 7-figure project to virtualize the entire data center and begin moving to a private cloud.

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One Response to When it comes to virtualization, do organizations really care about “green”?

  1. Chris Topham says:

    Hi Steve
    I absolutely agree. I created a virtualisation roi calculator which focussed on the green angle, but as you can see now its purely there to show what kind of cost saving a CIO could get.

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