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Book Review – Green IT: Reduce Your Information System’s Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line – Peter Ellis

by on February 25, 2009

Velte, T. J., Velte, A. T., and Elsenpeter, R. (2008). Green IT: Reduce Your Information System’s Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line. McGraw-Hill. 308pgs. $19.79. (ISBN-10: 0071599231).

With sustainability initiatives and environmental concerns about the impacts of IT on the rise, we have seen a healthy explosion in the literature surrounding the need for businesses to become more sustainable, “green up” their IT operations, and, in general, adopt a more holistic view towards making operations less harmful to the environment. Green IT: Reduce Your Information System’s Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line acts as a coherent survey of the tactics available to help in this effort, focusing on not just the measures that contribute to increased efficiency, but a review of relevant policy, case studies, and a brief overview of how to begin the change process required to have green IT become an effective engine within an organization.

The book begins with an overview of the field of green IT, discussing some of the common considerations and tactics used when creating green IT initiatives. A brief teaser of concerns about IT that frequently lead to the start of green IT programs flows into an overview of relevant policies and initiatives on a country-by-country basis. These two chapters give a good framework for the need for green IT in the face of increasing regulation and concern.

Over the next several chapters, insights are offered into how an organization actually makes changes to its IT infrastructure to increase efficiency and lower costs. Topics include power usage, cooling, paper use, and hardware purchases. Many of these tips are quite valuable, though frequently can be found elsewhere (there are a handful that I was unaware of before reading the book). Each chapter on a particular type of improvement (reduced paper usage, for instance) suggests a variety of potential considerations, including the amount saved by taking a particular route, the types of calculations that will be involved in determining how to best improve a process, overhead costs, and potential political considerations.

Following the chapters focusing on how to improve infrastructure are two chapters of case studies, one chapter focusing on technology businesses and the next focusing on other organizations that have made strides towards greening their operations. These case studies look at the goals of each organization as well as the measures that they have implemented to become more sustainable.

The last section of the book is split into discussions of data center design, virtualization, how to begin the process of greening an IT organization, and, in the final chapter, how to keep sustainability efforts alive. The most valuable chapters in this section are, from a process standpoint, the final two – many of the points in the first two chapters were alluded to in earlier chapters (though they do give a more in-depth explanation of both topics). These final chapters focus on laying the foundation for a baseline comparison of operations so that change can be measured and tracked, determining tools, processes, and strategies that will need to be implemented to make green IT successful, and how to find resources to assist in the process.

This work takes an unabashedly positive outlook on the topic of green IT adoption; it is abundantly clear as one reads through the content that the authors are very much pro-green IT, almost to a fault. While this is not necessarily a bad trait, it certainly colors the text somewhat. The main issue is that it ignores the potential downfalls of implementing green IT – not all measures are correct for every company, and this book tends towards a one-size-fits-all picture (particularly when discussing virtualization).

Another major issue I had with the book was its inconsistent calculations, which throw some of the math presented throughout the book into question. In at least one instance, manually calculating the numbers yielded a significantly different result — half of what the authors cited as a potential savings. These errors, combined with fairly inconsistent explanations of how they arrived at certain figures, call into question a good number of the book’s claims. While they are fairly careful to cite some data sources, they only haphazardly documented them – a broader effort to show where numbers, estimates, and figures came from would have vastly improved my confidence in the author’s message. A lack of works cited lists with the book itself makes it hard to track down and verify sources. In general, a feeling that the book is not well-edited drags down the quality of the material.

Overall, the content of the book serves as a good primer to those who are unaware of the process of adopting green IT. Its policy overview and specific breakdowns of each potential area of improvement provide useful insight into just how much needs to be considered when engaging in green IT planning. However, this book should be read less with an eye towards its calculations and justifications than towards gleaning the essential tools needed for a specific organization to shift towards green IT. The justifications will undoubtedly change; no one green IT effort is exactly the same as the others. The tools and tactics, however, remain fixed.

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