As we look back on 2007, two of the major trends of the year have been the rise of ‘Green Computing’ and the quest for compliance with new legislation. These two, sometimes conflicting needs, have turned 2007 into something of an ‘Annus Horribilis’ for the average IT Director, imposing additional requirements on their already severely over-stretched IT budgets and creating yet more pressure on resources.

As we read with horror Gartner’s estimate that technology accounts for 2% of all carbon emissions, placing it on a par with the aviation sector, many IT professionals have had their social consciences severely pricked and have resolved in 2008 to reduce their company’s CO2 emissions. Forrester informed us recently that 85% of IT professionals believe environmental factors to be important in planning IT operations, but only a quarter have written green criteria into their company’s purchasing processes.

However, fate and compliance has conspired against these good intentions, by forcing companies to store even more data for even greater periods of time, adding to the IT managers burden of increasing storage and enforcing stringent data privacy requirements to maintain both data integrity and privacy. These trends have encouraged organisations to concentrate their servers into data centres on the basis that it’s easier to manage and control centralised data and it also has the knock on benefit of reducing energy usage.

Mobilising the workforce

These fundamental changes to the structure of IT operations, combined with the increasing mobilisation of the workforce and use of remote workers and teleworkers has created a new dilemma for the network manager, who is hearing complaints from remote workers about the poor speed of application delivery over the wide area network (WAN). The fact is that many of these applications were never designed for this environment, resulting in delays at best, and in some cases applications not working at all, causing frustration and lost user productivity leading to frantic calls for help to the support team.

The expanding distance between workers and applications, whether they are housed in head office data centres or even hosted by third parties, has led to remote workers suffering from inferior application performance, a problem that cannot be solved simply by throwing extra bandwidth at the problem. The answer to the problem has emerged in the guise of WAN application acceleration solutions.

Speed isn’t everything

Yet speeding up all traffic isn’t necessarily the smartest move. Stripping malware out of that traffic and prioritising certain types of traffic based on the nature of the application and the sender and recipient is equally important. There is also an array of different acceleration techniques that work better for different types of protocols. Applying the wrong technique to the wrong application could nullify the benefits of acceleration entirely. Equally, since approximately 30% of network bandwidth is consumed by unauthorised applications such as web surfing, P2P, Skype, spware, it makes perfect sense to ensure that you are only accelerating what’s genuinely important to your business.

Collaborative applications reduce travel

Yet returning once again to the green theme, IT can have a positive impact on carbon consumption. The advent of collaborative applications such as video-conferencing, email, VoIP and business processes driven by IT, can reduce our need to travel to meetings as well as reduce costs. For multinational organisations the costs of reducing travel budgets can provide hard saving and evident environmental benefits.

Yet, for this to happen, the user’s experience has to be a good one and the performance of many of these applications over WAN backbones is often not satisfactory, causing people to revert back to their old carbon-emitting habits. Video and VoIP for example are both very chatty applications making multiple round trips between users and applications and resulting in serious performance problems (both capacity of bandwidth and latency).

Different applications have different problems; some have latency issues (e.g. file services) and some have bandwidth issues (eg some multimedia training/video) and some have both bandwidth and latency issues (e.g. web applications).

The rise of outsourcing

One solution that companies have turned to faced with the confusing demands of compliance and the increasing complexity of applications and demands of users, has been the use of third parties to provide hosted services. Once again you could argue that the consolidation of service external to the organisation also helps to alleviate the company’s green conscience. Examples of third party hosted applications that have been commercially successful include, WebEX and Oracle OnDemand. However, in selecting an application acceleration platform for your business, you should also make sure that it is equally capable of accelerating both internal and outsourced applications.

2008 and beyond

As 2007 bowed out with the Bali Conference pledging the international community to stem the tide of carbon emissions, 2008 is likely to see a renewed impetus behind organisations to follow the government’s lead. For forward thinking IT managers, taking a strategic view of the network architecture and the changing usage patterns and types of applications, it is possible to equate a positive environmental approach with cost savings without subjecting remote and mobile users to a second class level of application delivery.

With the evident environmental benefits of applications such as video-conferencing enabling collaborative working and knowledge sharing and the rise of web-based applications, with a little forethought we can save money, increase productivity and help save the planet.

Nigel Hawthorn is the VP international marketing at Blue Coat, a provider of WAN application acceleration and secure web solutions