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Green techs such as videoconferencing and thin clients getting a second look


June 15, 2009
By Christopher Mines

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As enterprise IT organizations continue to adopt green principles, they’ll take another look at technologies that reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, both within the IT shop and across the business. Enterprises going green will give a nudge to technology markets such as collaboration, videoconferencing, thin-client systems, and data centre outsourcing.
With the number of enterprises adopting green IT practices increasing, IT managers will take a hard look at technologies that can help their operations become more efficient and sustainable.
Two technology markets – collaboration and visualization software – that are already soaring will get an additional boost from companies implementing a green IT initiative.
Collaboration software like team workspaces, Web conferencing and other messaging and social computing tools for individuals and teams is a fast-rising priority for enterprise IT organizations. In 2007, a Forrester survey found that 15 per cent of enterprises in Europe and North America rated implementing a collaboration strategy as a critical priority, and another 34 per cent called it a priority.
With enhanced collaboration and teleworking tools, enterprises can cut carbon emissions from employee commuting and reduce their office space footprint.
The advent of green IT may provide afterburners to the virtualization market’s rocket ride. The consolidation of application workloads that results from server virtualization is widely recognized as a powerful impetus to green IT initiatives, offering users both operating (power) and capital expense reductions.
Other technology markets that don’t have the same strong uptake as collaboration and virtualization may also get a boost from enterprise customers looking to green their IT operations.
Videoconferencing has long been a stepchild of IT and communications systems. Expensive bandwidth, balky interfaces, and unsatisfactory user experiences have impeded adoption and use.
Green IT may change this picture by introducing environmental responsibility as a new factor in a company’s consideration of videoconferencing systems. New HD-based conference room systems have dramatically upgraded the usability and overall experience of video communication, but the six-figure-per-room price tag of such equipment can be hard to justify. However, reduced travel costs can be substantial, as seen by Cisco, where company travel expenses were reduced by $240 million.
The benefits of putting most PC processing power in a managed data centre environment, leaving only a keyboard, monitor, and virtual PC operating system at the desktop – known as thin-client systems – improves the manageability and security of distributed computing, ensuring, for example, that all users have the same software image. Despite the benefits, questions and resistance remain, and the standard “fat-client” desktop PC is still by far the choice of corporate IT.
But in that same survey, another 20 per cent to 25 per cent of enterprise respondents were either planning to implement or were interested in thin-client alternatives. Environmental factors such as reduced power consumption and longer product life cycles were among the reasons that these users will take another look at thin-client options.
Long envisioned by pundits as the ideal future state of corporate IT infrastructure, data centre outsourcing has never achieved adoption in line with its theoretical attractiveness. Our survey data from 2007 indicates that fewer than one in five corporate IT shops outsource data centre management or mainframe computing operations – and that a quarter of companies that do outsource plan to bring those services back in-house.
But this meager adoption may get a lift from green IT. Activity aimed at making corporate data centres energy efficient has reached a fever pitch. For a number of companies, outsourcing part or all of their infrastructure will be the way to tap service providers that are much more energy efficient, thereby reducing energy costs and cutting carbon emissions. Companies taking a second look at data centre outsourcing will follow one – or a mixture – of three primary paths.
The first is traditional outsourcing where companies offload their entire data centre infrastructure and personnel to an IT services provider. The second is colocation where companies put customer-owned IT equipment into data centre facilities that service providers. This is an option for companies that want to avoid the capital outlays associated with expanding, optimizing, or building new data centres. The third path is a new umbrella term – cloud computing – that encompasses both new data centre architectures and software-as-a-service (SaaS) business models. Outsourcing application workloads to such cloud computing centres will often give user companies the added fillip of tapping greener energy sources to power their computing services, reducing the carbon footprint of their IT operations.
Christopher Mines is a senior vice-president with Forrester Research (www.forrester.com). His research focuses on how green IT will change the design, marketing and operation of IT systems.