In-Depth

Lean and Green

The economy may be bad, but green is still good -- for everyone in the extended Microsoft ecosystem.

Even in a down economy -- perhaps especially in a down economy -- the green-technology movement offers plenty of opportunities for Microsoft and its partners.

"How to think about green IT or green computing or sustainability -- that topic is very much present in our customer conversations," says Francois Ajenstat, Microsoft's director of environmental sustainability. Even with everyone's attention riveted first on recessionary matters, he says, interest in environmentally sound practices continues to increase.

The idea of environmental responsibility isn't exactly new: The first Earth Day celebration was held 39 years ago this month. Among the biggest changes in the years since then: Environmentalists and corporations are no longer automatic adversaries, largely because companies have adopted the philosophy that conservation isn't just a social issue, but one that makes strong business sense as well.

"People are beginning to understand that you can be good in terms of the environment and you can also do well in terms of reducing costs," explains Ajenstat. That understanding can be an especially powerful asset for channel partners during tough times, he adds: "It creates a new dimension. They have a new tool in their tool belts so that they can go to customers and sell the value of the product. It increases their total value to the customer."

No Cooling-off Period
Spurred at least in part by former Vice President Al Gore's Nobel Prize-winning campaign to raise awareness about global warming, organizations worldwide have taken a hard look at reducing their "environmental footprints" in the past decade. They've used a green lens to reexamine everything from procurement to facility maintenance, from business travel to trash disposal. From the IT perspective, of course, there's nearly universal interest in running both data centers and desktops more efficiently, reducing power usage and eliminating waste wherever possible (see "Green Is Good for Profits as Well as for the Planet," April 2008).

Environmentalists might reasonably wonder whether support for green IT initiatives might dwindle as the U.S. economy continues down the steep slide it began last year. But according to a December 2008 report by Forrester Research Inc., that hasn't happened -- yet.

"The slowing economy will not derail efforts to make IT operations more efficient and less environmentally harmful," Forrester Senior Vice President Christopher Mines wrote in the market overview for vendor-strategy professionals. Regardless of the recession, "the central value of green IT programs -- greener IT also means saving money -- is taking hold among corporate IT practitioners," Mines explained.

Forrester's conclusion is based on a survey of IT professionals at 1,022 companies worldwide in October 2008, when many were finalizing or adjusting their spending plans for 2009. The majority of those surveyed -- 47 percent -- said it was too early to know how the economic downturn would affect their organizations' environment-related initiatives. But the second-largest group -- 38 percent -- said they expected no change. And among those who expected the recession to influence the pace of their initiatives, those planning to accelerate their efforts outnumbered those planning to pull back by 2-to-1.

"That data is counterintuitive only at first glance," Mines wrote of that last finding. "Companies are realizing that 'green means green' -- more sustainable computing operations are also more efficient and less costly." He called the findings "encouraging" for IT professionals who have focused their pro-green messaging on potential savings from reduced power usage and lower TCO of more energy-efficient hardware and software. And, he added: "It's also a strong signal that cost reduction must stay at the center of any green-IT-related value proposition."

Based on that research, which updated three previous surveys on the topic, Forrester stood by its earlier predictions that worldwide spending for green IT services will grow from about $500 million in 2008 to nearly $5 billion by 2013.

Redmond's Role
Such findings are good news for Microsoft partners, given the software giant's recent stepped-up emphasis on sustainable business practices and greener IT.

Microsoft's first major foray into green IT came in late 2007, when the company appointed Rob Bernard, previously general manager of the company's worldwide ISV group, to the new role of chief environmental strategist. Ajenstat, a former partner-company executive who had most recently served as Microsoft's SQL Server marketing director, stepped into his new role last year (see "Q&A: Greener Pastures," August 2008).

At that time, Microsoft's green messaging focused primarily on nearly three dozen new or enhanced power-management features in its otherwise beleaguered Windows Vista operating system. Chief among them was an improved "sleep mode" that temporarily idles a computer's processor and monitor after a period of non-use, but allows them to quickly resume full-power operation with a single touch. Even today, Microsoft executives are fond of quoting a March 2007 report from the National Resources Defense Council -- a San Francisco-based environmental-protection organization -- indicating that Vista's sleep mode can save companies about $50 per desktop computer per year.

More recently, though, Microsoft has been taking a much broader approach, specifically promoting the green benefits for many of the products that its partners represent -- and, in many cases, use in their own businesses. Some examples include:

  • Virtualization; specifically Microsoft's Hyper-V technology: By breaking the traditional bond between hardware and software, virtualization enables changes such as putting several software servers on a single piece of hardware. That allows companies to consolidate servers, using more of the total capacity on each one, typically without sacrificing performance.
         "I see that as having a triple benefit," Ajenstat says. "You turn off the machines and save power. You don't have to cool as many machines because you have fewer of them, so you save water. And you don't have to buy as many new machines."
  • Windows Server 2008: Microsoft's most recent Windows Server operating system includes a built-in Hyper-V feature. The release also includes the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Solution Accelerator, which can identify the best server candidates for consolidation -- and which has its own homepage on Facebook.com. A recent Microsoft white paper says that, thanks to those features, Windows Server 2008 offers a power savings of up to 10 percent over Windows Server 2003. "That may not sound like a lot, but when you have 1,000 servers, it adds up," Ajenstat says.
    Microsoft has also launched a free Hyper-Green tool that partners and customers can use to calculate the benefits of virtualization. Users just plug in the number of servers involved, and Hyper-Green generates a report estimating reductions in cost, energy use in kilowatt hours and emissions of carbon dioxide.
  • Dynamics AX: Most recently, in February, Microsoft released the Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Dynamics AX, part of its suite of enterprise resource planning products for midsize businesses. The tool, available free to Dynamics AX 2009 customers, is designed to help companies collect data about their everyday energy consumption and output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. "Based on this information, organizations can monitor their carbon footprint and institute business practices that are both environmentally and economically sustainable -- minimizing their exposure to fluctuating energy costs, for example," Microsoft officials said in unveiling the tool. Bernard, the company's chief environmental strategist, said the dashboard provides customers with two additional benefits: "It also allows organizations to comply with the emerging regulatory environment, and [additionally] satisfy demands from customers and supply-chain partners for greater transparency."
         Also in February, Microsoft released instructions on how Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV customers can "implement environmental-management accounting principles" to similarly track and reduce power usage and gas emissions.
  • Unified communications (UC): Microsoft has been pushing the business benefits of UC -- its approach to integrating e-mail, calendaring, voice mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony, audio, video and Web conferencing -- for a couple of years. But today the messaging emphasizes not only how UC can streamline a company's communications and collaboration capabilities, but reduce its "environmental footprint" as well. For instance, by enabling employees to work together regardless of their locations, a UC setup can reduce or eliminate the cost of travel, as well as the environmental impact of travel. Ajenstat himself recently made a presentation to a European conference using Live Meeting rather than traveling to the event in person: "There was a cost benefit from not going, and there was the environmental benefit of not creating carbon emissions" by flying and driving, he says.
Going Green 101

These three steps can go a long way toward reducing both costs and environmental damage.

Want to see your customers get greener? Francois Ajenstat, Microsoft's director of environmental sustainability, offers a three-step approach to help them, and perhaps your own company, achieve that goal:

  1. Reduce energy usage: Take concrete, measurable steps to reduce IT power consumption.
  2. Emphasize IT efficiency: Optimize IT for energy rather than just for load. Develop and use accurate metrics to track progress.
  3. Rethink business practices: For instance, encourage company executives to consider delivering presentations via an online conference rather than traveling to meetings in person.

"Overall, customers still need education about what they can do to reduce their impact," Ajenstat says. Part of that education is learning to see the big picture. From an IT perspective, most people focus primarily or entirely on energy consumption, he says. Reducing power usage is an important piece of the picture -- but it's just one piece.

Partners and customers interested in a comprehensive green strategy also need to think about water usage, air quality, recycling, green purchasing and other issues. "You need to move beyond energy to think of the entire environmental lifecycle," Ajenstat says. "It can take a while to get there." But, he adds, the results are worth the effort.
-- A.S.

Getting the Message Across
Of course, in an environment where cost cutting remains the top priority for most decision makers, simply telling them that "green is good" won't be enough to convince them to invest. "They're asking, 'What are the things that will save me the most money?'" Ajenstat says. "So you have to lead with cost [savings], but support it with a big environmental payback, too."
Ajenstat also recommends emphasizing that, in most cases, customers can simply take a different, greener approach to using their existing technology. "They don't have to go buy something new," he explains, citing as examples the power-management options in Vista, the virtualization capability in Windows Server 2008 and the UC setups that many customers may already have in place. "Encourage them to leverage what they already own and you'll see a lot more reception in the market."

More Information

RCP's earlier green-IT coverage: "Green Is Good for Profits as Well as for the Planet," April 2008

RCP's earlier interview with Francois Ajenstat: "Q&A: Greener Pastures," August 2008

RCP's feature on partner virtualization strategies, "Piecing Together Your Virtualization Model," February 2009

Forrester Research report: "Market Overview: A Slowing Economy Won't Slow Down Corporate Green IT Initiatives" (link to summary, purchase information)

Microsoft white paper on Windows Server 2008 power savings

Microsoft's Green IT home page

Hyper-Green tool (calculates server-consolidation savings in terms of dollars, power usage and carbon emissions)

Microsoft's Environment home page

Microsoft Go Green partner blog

Microsoft-sponsored KRC Research survey on SMB green business practices

Microsoft announces Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Dynamics AX

National Resources Defense Council statement on Windows Vista's energy savings