DougwashburnTo date, IT pros have given very little attention to the “greening” of the network. Why? Three words: follow the money. According to recent Forrester research, the top motivation for pursing Green IT is to “reduce the energy-related costs of operating IT.” And when compared to other IT energy-drawing assets – like servers, data center cooling or PCs – the energy consumption of the network falls at the bottom of the list, meaning that the ROI to reduce energy use is less compelling.

But the launch of Cisco’s EnergyWise technology is likely to raise the “greening” status of the network. EnergyWise is a free software upgrade to Cisco’s entire line of Catalyst switching gear. The technology allows customers to monitor, manage and ultimately reduce energy consumption of anything “connected” to the network. As Cisco describes, EnergyWise will evolve over three phases, adding new functionality with each iteration:

In the first phase (February 2009), Network Control, Cisco EnergyWise will be supported on Catalyst switches and manage the energy consumption of IP devices such as phones, video surveillance cameras and wireless access points.

In the next phase (Summer 2009), IT Control, there will be expanded industry support of EnergyWise on devices such as personal computers (PCs), laptops and printers.

In the final phase (Early 2010), Building Control, Cisco EnergyWise will be extended to the management of building system assets such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), elevators, lights, employee badge access systems, fire alarm systems and security systems.

So what does Cisco’s EnergyWise technology mean to the network’s role in Green IT? A few things:

-Position the network as foundational to Green IT. The “greening” of the network has typically focused on eco-friendly manufacturing practices and designing more energy efficient equipment. What’s unique about EnergyWise is that it goes one step further by positioning the network as a pillar of Green IT, in particular energy conservation. So in addition to buying more energy efficient networking equipment, IT pros also receive the tools to manage the energy consumption of any asset connected to the network.

-Encourage IT’s role as the Energy Czar. While the rampant growth in IT's energy use needs to be addressed, it pales in significance when compared with that consumed by office buildings and industrial facilities. This bodes well for energy management technologies, like EnergyWise, that help IT pros optimize energy use across buildings and facilities. To borrow a term coined by The Uptime Institute and McKinsey & Company, awareness and access to these types of technology might start to encourage IT’s role as the “energy czar” to reduce companywide energy consumption.

-Foster the Green IT 1.0 to 2.0 transition. Most Green IT projects fall into the Green IT 1.0 category – reducing the environmental impacts of IT itself (e.g. sourcing more energy efficient equipment, powering down PCs at night, e-waste recycling). But there is mounting interest for Green IT 2.0 – using IT as an enabler of greener business practices. Early examples of this include Nike's "Considered Index" desktop application, which empowers designers to make more eco-friendly decisions when designing shoes, and UPS's "package flow" software that eliminated left-hand turns from delivery routes, saving $8.4 million in fuel costs and 32,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2007. Forrester’s “The Rise Of The Green Enterprise: A Primer For IT Leadership's Involvement” discusses this in-depth. And Cisco’s EnergyWise is a great example of Green IT 2.0 technology that allows IT pros to extend their sphere of “greening” influence to the business, not just IT itself.

While this is all well and good, culture and budgetary ownership still stand in the way of a more energy efficient, network-enabled world. As Kenneth Brill, founder and executive director of the Uptime Institute explains in a recent Computerworld article on the topic of IT’s role in energy efficiency, "It's been a lot of talk but little action." And because most IT shops today are not responsible for paying their energy-related operating expenses, there has been little incentive to make the investment in time or capital to minimize energy consumption within or outside of IT.

But there is a bright spot. First, recent Forrester data reveals that, while less than 10% of IT organizations pay for their electricity costs, 63% have responsibility for managing and reducing energy costs. And second, IT budgets are aligning to this. Recent data from Forrester’s “Making I&O Investments To Save The Business” shows that “reducing facilities costs” is the top category where IT pros are revising spending as a result of the current recessionary climate.

By Doug Washburn

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