Q&A: Greener Pastures

In his new role in Redmond, Francois Ajenstat has a message for Microsoft partners: What's good for the environment can be great for your bottom line.

The way Francois Ajenstat sees it, the global green movement is generating golden opportunities for Microsoft partners.

Ajenstat-who came to Microsoft eight years ago from a partner company and most recently served as SQL Server marketing director-is now Microsoft's director of environmental sustainability. Here, he talks with Redmond Channel Partner magazine's Executive Editor Anne Stuart about how Microsoft partners can profit from the growing demand for green IT solutions.

What's the mission of your new role?
I'm focused on telling the story of how our products can reduce not only the carbon footprint of IT, but address some modern environmental challenges, too.

"Avoid overstatement. Don't say that what you deliver will make customers green; say that what you deliver will address a part of the problem."
Francois Ajenstat, Director of Environmental Sustainability,Microsoft

What are some of your key green messages?
First, it's telling customers about how they can reduce their carbon footprints [through] power reduction [such as power management built into Windows Vista]. If you look at most customer environments, they leave their PCs on every night. If you turn on power management for 10 PCs, it's like removing one car off the road. Obviously, for larger companies with hundreds or maybe thousands of computers, the effect is even greater.

[In addition,] virtualization helps our customers better utilize their existing infrastructures. It reduces the number of servers sitting out there and idling.

[Another] area is encouraging customers to re-think how they do things. This could be as simple as reducing the amount of travel by holding remote meetings or using unified communications. Or it could be re-thinking processes-for instance, re-thinking paper-based processes by going electronic.

What are Microsoft customers saying about environmental issues?
It's been a very straightforward conversation. What customers are really looking for is guidance. They know they have all these different systems and issues and they're looking for people to come in and help them figure out what they need to do. With power management, for instance, they know what it is, but they don't know the magnitude of the problem or how to address it. The opportunity here, for Microsoft and its partners, is to help them through this process.

Just how big is that opportunity?
This is going to be a $5 billion market by 2013, according to Forrester [Research].

What are some specific paths that Microsoft partners might want to pursue?
For [systems integrators,] doing green IT is a logical step. They're going to be called in to do assessments and implementations. It's a nice extension of what they do already. Looking at green can be a gateway into virtualization, desktop deployments, unified communications rollouts and other opportunities.

On the ISV side, there are a bunch of different opportunities. One is taking existing industries and looking at what they can do there. Other ISV partners are looking at ways to make power reduction easier, and there are others focusing on the supply-chain side. And OEM partners are looking at ways to drive efficiencies.

Are there any down sides to all this activity?
With so many different people jumping on the bandwagon with their green messages, there's starting to be a lot of confusion among customers. [Partners should] avoid overstatement. Don't say that what you deliver will make customers green; say that what you deliver will address a part of the problem.

What do you see coming down the road?
Environmental sustainability is going to move from a "nice-to-have" to a "must-have." Just look at consumer electronics today, with [the] Energy Star [efficiency standard]. That's something everyone looks for. This is going to result in a similar computing revolution. Companies will re-evaluate everything from their infrastructures to their processes. This global problem is going to drive a lot of change. It's great for the planet. It's also a phenomenal opportunity for Microsoft and our partners.