While a company can attain substantial energy cost savings from locating a data center near cheap power sources, a CIO needs to consider other factors, such as telecom costs, the impact on the local economy and the availability of IT talent, which is likely to be scarce in remote areas. There can also be latency issues; computer-based financial trading institutions tend to shy away from remote data centers because of their latency. "Microseconds count," says James Houghton, vice president and head of utility product management at Wachovia Corp. VistaPrint also weighed a laundry list of international concerns before settling on Canada, from tech support to the potential for natural and geopolitical disasters.
Remote data centers, though, might not even be "green" at all. Critics claim that building a data center in an area offering cheap hydroelectric power isn't completely environmentally friendly. For instance, dams on major rivers harm salmon fisheries. The EPA has taken measures to remove dams on the Snake River. The bottom line: Taking advantage of cheaper energy isn't the same as being energy efficient or green.
Regardless, most CIOs don't make green-based decisions -- they make greenback ones. In a recent Forrester Research Inc. survey, 78% of 124 IT procurement and operations respondents throughout North America and Europe said they don't write green IT into their evaluation and selection criteria for IT systems and devices. Of course, a CIO's traditional goals are to help a company make money and cut costs in the process. Many green technologies just don't yet have the needed ROI. "We can't build a data center that is completely energy efficient, because we have a business to run," Vyas says.
Case in point: A facilities manager in the San Francisco Bay Area said that he recently looked into installing solar panels at the behest of his CIO, but the high cost of retrofitting roofs to handle the weight of the proposed panels quashed the idea. It would've taken years for lower energy costs to offset the retrofit, he says. Now the company will consider solar panels only when building a new facility.
This was first published in November 2007