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InformationWeek Analytics: An Inconvenient Data Center

The truth about many vaunted green IT initiatives is that they're just ROI-based business decisions wrapped in environmentally friendly packaging. With the power used by data centers doubling over the past five years and the national average rate for electricity jumping 44% since 2004, for example, it's no mystery why more efficient data centers are all the rage.

But as the economy continues to slow down, will initiatives that focus on the broader environment and cost a bit--or a lot--more be slashed, regardless of their positive impact on the planet?

Don't bet your carbon credits on IT sticking to its green guns: A mere 12% of the 419 business technology professionals we surveyed in our InformationWeek Analytics Green IT Survey say they're willing to pay more for a greener product. And while we're being honest, let's admit that virtualization isn't about being green. Sure, it's a great side benefit, but 76% of respondents list greenness as a minor cog in the decision to virtualize.

A case in point is the Cambridge Housing Authority. The agency is based in Cambridge, Mass., one of the hotbeds of the environmental movement, and boasts an extensive green program that includes solar panels on its buildings, paper and waste recycling, educating residents on conserving energy, and a dedicated person working on green initiatives. The CHA recently implemented a server and desktop virtualization project to streamline operations and better support its 18 remote sites.

"The environmental impact did factor into our thought process, but it was more about the management and other benefits of virtualization," says Pranita Amarasing, CHA's director of administration and policy. "Power savings wasn't a core driver, it was more of a side benefit."

Still, our hearts are mostly in the right place. About half of the business technology professionals we surveyed either have formal green IT policies or are in the process of developing them. The largest group, 39%, lack formal polices but are doing ad hoc green adoption.

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The rest? Let's just say we won't release their addresses to the Sierra Club.

The problem is, unless higher-cost initiatives become mandates, good green intentions will be no match for red ink on a budget balance sheet. The nascent green IT movement is in for some tumultuous times. A tough economy means increasing focus on the ROI of all investments, green or otherwise. Meanwhile, the changing of the guard in Washington signals a resurgence of pure green initiatives that will add costs, especially around regulating electronic waste and requiring vendors to produce more environmentally friendly systems.

These aren't complementary forces.

chart: Where Are You With Green IT?
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