Turning green

Sathya Mithra Ashok looks behind all the excitement of eco-friendly technology and finds that the Middle East has still some time to go to take on a distinct hue of jade.
Turning green
Around 10% to 15% of our customers’ budgets are allocated to adopting green solutions. - Herbert Radlinger, head of datacentre services at eHosting DataFort (eHDF).
By Sathya Mithra Asho
Mon 22 Jun 2009 04:00 AM

Sathya Mithra Ashok looks behind all the excitement of eco-friendly technology and finds that the Middle East has still some time to go to take on a distinct hue of jade.

Green fever has gripped the entire Middle East region and enterprise customers are falling over themselves to implement the latest in eco-friendly solutions, either due to an increased environmental awareness or due to the growing weight of international regulations.

This is what most vendors in the market who trade in any kind of green solutions would like us to believe. In a bid to increase adoption of environmentally-friendly solutions, these companies have created a veneer of hype that projects the impression of a majority of firms already using these systems. But what exactly lies behind this build-up?

For businesses in the Middle East region, there is a clear and direct correlation between electricity consumption, the demand for electricity generation and carbon emissions. Reduced electricity consumption thus means less pollution.

To answer that question, a selection of vendors were asked to give an estimate of the percentage of their customers who have adopted green solutions.

"We are committed to compliance with local laws and regulations in jurisdictions where we operate, and to directives for the recycle, reuse, or reclamation of our products and their packaging. This commitment continues to be a driving force for us. As a result of our efforts, more than 15% of our customers have adopted our green solutions," says Ahmed Zeidan, channel sales manager of Netgear Middle East.

"As consultants and a system integrator, we have been offering green solutions for managing datacentres to more than 70% to 80% of our customers in the Gulf region," says Herbert Radlinger, head of datacentre services at eHosting DataFort (eHDF).

While there is a huge discrepancy in the percentages mentioned by the vendors above, we can agree that a safe number lies between them and is probably below 40%. While many other vendors remained vague on the percentage of customers who had adopted their green solutions, most of them also felt unsure about the budget amounts that enterprises are spending on environment-friendly solutions.

"Around 10% to 15% of our customers' budgets are allocated to adopting green solutions," explains Radlinger.

"We are witnessing a tremendous interest among regional organisations. As a matter of fact, we estimate that up to 10% to 20% of their annual budgets are used to integrate ‘green' products within their operations," says Zeidan.

"Although being concerned about the environment, a recent IDC study showed that most customers are interested in green IT solutions to reduce their operational cost. They are not spending more of their budgets on green solutions, instead they are using these solutions to reduce their OPEX," points out Aziz Ala'ali, regional director, Middle East and Africa, Extreme Networks.

Taken together, a 35% adoption level among enterprises with 20% of annual budgets is a noticeable trend, if not as significant a one as made out by most vendors. Then the questions arise, what solutions are these enterprises actually buying, and is green as penetrating an ideology within their organisations as it should be? What and how

Inevitably, the first solution sets to be implemented in enterprise scenarios seem to be the air conditioning units used in datacentres.

"The bottom line for green solutions is about using only enough energy that is required according to the actual computing performance of the server. Our customers at eHDF have taken well to adopting green solutions that are easiest to implement. Adopting a better control system for air conditioning for example has been most readily adopted simply because customers are able to use the available technology," states Radlinger. He adds that these are often followed by power management and monitoring solutions.

It is not so much that a specific solution set has been adopted, but the need for applying green solutions is stronger in specific applications. A very recent trend is to consolidate the applications in datacentres.

John Hoonhout, MD of HP Middle East points out that most adoption takes place in areas that concern electricity consumption.

"For businesses in the Middle East region, there is a clear and direct correlation between electricity consumption, the demand for electricity generation and carbon emissions. If businesses implement effective initiatives to reduce electricity consumption, it will deliver less pollution. It is as simple as that," he says.

Other vendors, such as Nortel and Orange insist that initial adoption is taking place around solutions like telepresence and unified communications that consolidate communication resources and reduce the necessity of travel in an organisation, thereby making it ‘greener'.

"It is not so much that a specific solution set has been adopted, but the need for applying green solutions is stronger in specific applications. A very recent trend is to consolidate applications in datacentres utilising more powerful CPUs and virtualisation. Especially in the datacentre the space and the amount of power is limited, as a consequence customers are looking for solutions that use less power in order to maximise the overall performance of the datacentre," states Ala'ali.

Leigh Hancock, marketing communications manager at Dell agrees, "Many of our customers are now opting for green solutions such as virtualisation as they provide a solution to many of the issues our clients are facing. Whether they are looking to improve efficiency, rectify power supply issues, cut costs or meet the demands and expectations of customers and shareholders, green IT can deliver."

Software firms, due to their specific natures, witness the green trend a little differently.

"Overall, our customers adopt Xerox's leading integrated and intelligent software solutions that enhance their existing hardware productivity as more and more customers are looking to vendors for end-to-end IT solutions that cut down costs and increase productivity," says Dan Smith, GM for integrated marketing, DMO at Xerox MEA.

"Symantec's strategy around the datacentre has been focused on optimisation and more efficient utilisation of existing resources. As a software company with no hardware agenda, we can concentrate on helping companies reduce their energy costs by identifying wasted resources (disk space, CPU and memory mainly) in their server and storage infrastructure. We can then provide the tools to put those resources into shared pools and eliminate silos," says Anthony Harrison, senior principal solutions specialist at Symantec.

Truth is out there

Though adoption is taking place in an apparently haphazard fashion, and at lower levels than previously projected, there is no doubt that awareness of ‘green' systems is on the rise and it is soon likely to become a necessary feature in organisations rather than just a nice-to-have one. However, before it reaches that optimum stage in the Middle East, there are still a few obstacles in its path."Quite a lot of our customers do indeed encourage green solutions. One aspect however, which could drive the use of green IT within the enterprise much further is if the IT department would become responsible for the cost of the power consumption related to IT. Usually the cost of electricity is handled by facilities management and not split on actual usage over the departments," points out Ala'ali.

Hoonhout agrees stating: "The very first thing that companies should do is to make energy efficiency a corporate objective. For most companies the IT department is typically not responsible for their electricity costs because often those costs are paid by a central budget or a corporate body rather than IT itself. To some extent this explains why for many IT managers, energy efficiency is not on their agenda. Putting energy efficiency as a key performance indicator on managers' balanced scorecard is an excellent starting point."

The other aspect holding back widescale adoption of green solutions is the lack of a comprehensive, organisation-wide environment policy in most Middle East user enterprises.

"Some do have policies, many do not. Many organisations are still looking to be educated and Xerox takes its role very seriously in being an advocate for sustainability. This does require senior level sponsorship. Where that exists policies tend to be more pervasive. Where this championing is not present at board or senior levels the outlook is less favorable," says Smith.

Zeidan states, "Unfortunately, the 15% of our customers who have adopted ‘green' products are yet to utilise this equipment across their entire operations, we estimate that only 30% of these companies' equipment are in actual fact ‘green'."

"In some countries in the region, government entities increasingly have green policies that encourage them to adopt green processes. This is in line with sustainable development policies adopted by these governments. International companies usually have green policies that are applied world-wide. Policy also makes business sense, since it saves energy and hence money," says Apollinaire Moreno-Borondo, sales engineering leader for the Middle East at Nortel.

Besides the above, the ongoing recession has also affected budgets for green solutions, which have significantly shrunk or disappeared completely in many enterprises and organisations.

Radlinger points out, "When implementing green solutions, a business is likely to see a sizeable return on investment (RoI) only at the end of the life cycle of a system. Anytime before then, the cost of savings will not be significant enough to implement. Convincing the CEO to invest in green solutions will thus, be a challenge especially in the current climate and conditions where budgets are limited and will subsequently pose a threat to the development of green solutions particularly in the region."

Yes, in all likelihood, green solutions will move up the agenda as soon as the year rolls around and the mood of the recession lifts a little. However, with only a few Middle East enterprises having adopted any eco-friendly solutions right now, and RoI for these solutions remaining a long-term prospect, the region is likely to continue to lag behind when it comes to going green.

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