For businesses today, being in the black is of course good news. However, there is now pressure for businesses to reduce their impact on the environment and go green. The most obvious target for this pressure is the IT department, particularly the datacentre where the majority of storage and servers sit, consuming energy to keep them powered and cooled.

As new “green IT” products are released every day, many businesses feel they are being bullied into thinking that the only way to have green IT is to get rid of their existing IT equipment and replace it, even if it still works perfectly. However, being green doesn’t have to cost the earth, and certainly shouldn’t mean sacrificing the IT budget.

There are practical steps that can be taken in order to make the datacentre more environmentally friendly that don’t involve ripping and replacing the entire infrastructure.

Firstly, businesses can use techniques such as virtualisation to increase utilisation and allow them to consolidate the number of servers and storage devices they need. This can also help to reduce the number of devices the business needs to replace over time as they reach the end of their lifecycle. Not only does this reduce the amount of old equipment needing to be disposed of but also helps to save the company money as it doesn’t need to purchase as many devices.

Secondly, a review of current datacentre design can highlight areas where changes can be made that will have an effect on how green the datacentre is. Most datacentres are filled with new servers that today contain dual and quad-core processors as standard. While server specs are continually getting higher, the majority of business applications don’t actually need all that processing power in order to run at peak performance.

Yet, despite how much, or little, processing power is actually required by the application, all the server’s processors continue to consume the same maximum amount of energy. A simple solution for businesses that don’t require this intense level of processing is to use intelligent power management software to limit the power of the processors, thus reducing the amount of energy used without affecting application performance.

Other simple steps of datacentre design include changing the way racks are organised so that hot air from devices exhausts into hot aisles and cool air is drawn from a cold aisle. This simple rearrangement can be highly effective at increasing the efficiency of computer room air conditioning plants.

Most datacentres are designed with a false floor through which pressurised cool air flows and is then blown into the room though meshed floor tiles. However, this is also where all the server and storage cabling runs and if the cabling isn’t kept tidy it can cause airflow problems resulting in uneven cooling, infective recirculation and increased energy use for cooling operations. To remedy this, businesses should reassess their under floor cabling to ensure clear or increased air channels in the under floor area.

Finally, becoming green must be part of the overall IT strategy, with defined targets put in place to reduce energy consumption underpinned by fundamental changes made to the operating model for IT. In order for targets to be set, businesses must have a way to measure how much energy the datacentre is currently using and then set a reduction target to be reached. Without this, there is no way to know whether the steps taken above have actually had an impact on reducing the company’s environmental footprint.

As well as setting targets, businesses also need to change the way devices such as servers and storage are purchased. By moving towards a service-orientated approach to IT, instead of allowing different departments to purchase storage and servers whenever they have a new application, the IT department will allocate them the resources needed to run the new application from a central pool. This way IT maintains control over the infrastructure purchased allowing them to maximise the utilisation of each device.

No one will argue that making changes to reduce a business’ impact on the environment isn’t a good thing. However, the days of being able to say that making these changes is simply too hard or expensive are gone. By incorporating these steps into an assessment based framework to understand the organisations’ current state of energy efficiency readiness and desired financial, environmental and operational outcomes, businesses can integrate green IT into their IT strategy without having to worry about spending vast sums of money.

In fact, by making better use of existing IT assets, changing the procurement model for IT and reducing power consumption, organisations can make a positive impact on the environment whilst actually reducing their IT costs and increasing infrastructure flexibility.

Colin Williams is a managing consultant at IT consultancy Morse