VARs see green in green IT for data center management

VARs use green IT strategy to lure customers tackling data center management demands. Many establish green IT initiatives to attract new customers and differentiate themselves from other VARs.

As green technology takes hold, value-added resellers (VARs) implementing storage technology are finding that it's more than just a fashion statement to advocate saving energy -- it can also be a vehicle for attracting customers while doing the right thing.

Green technology, which involves using hardware and software to increase energy efficiency, is particularly important in data centers. According to IDC, more than half of all IT power consumption is due to the burgeoning systems supported within the enterprise data center.

An August report published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that the energy consumption of servers and data centers has doubled in the past five years and will almost double again in the next five, to an eventual cost of about $7.4 billion annually.

VARs savvy in data center management and power conservation can use that knowledge not only to help current customers, but to attract new ones as well.

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For example, in May, Nexus Information Systems, a VAR based in Plymouth, Minn., attracted 80 IT managers to a seminar entitled "How to Run a Green House."

Two-thirds of the IT managers were current customers. But the rest were brand-new prospects. Nexus signed six of them -- all midmarket customers with data centers of between 100 to 500 servers.

"If you want to try to get people's attention, green is not a bad marketing tool, because people are looking for different options," said Keith Norbie, director of Nexus' storage division. "All of us in the VAR channel are looking for some way to have some differentiation. And that's not a bad differentiation -- to specialize in the green technology area."

Two months ago Nexus launched a campaign in which it offers a free Nintendo Wii to chief information officers (CIOs) who bring Nexus in to do a free energy assessment.

Talking about how to finance green data center management can be as attractive as talking about the technology, according to Sandy Potter, vice president of business development at Norcross, Ga.-based Optimus Solutions LLC.

For one Atlanta event, Optimus brought in an accountant to talk about grants, funding and tax incentives that IT managers can tap into as they build out their data centers, Potter said.

"Easily 25% of the people that attended our events were people that we had never done business with, and two companies have asked us to do an assessment of their power capacity," Potter said. "We've been asked to present the same content to a CIO group in Florida, so we are finding a lot of interest in this."

At some large companies the issues of power efficiency have reached a critical point, according to Tom Clark, a board member of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

"I recently met with a whole group of data center managers and there were four or five whose data centers had already reached the maximum power availability that they could," Clark said. "Their power utilities simply cannot supply them with additional seats. At the same time they are facing this ever-increasing growth of data so they are in a real pinch."

In September, SNIA -- a vendor advocacy group -- launched a project called the Green Storage Initiative (GSI) to evangelize power-conserving storage to data center managers and to develop tools that measure the efficient use of power in a standard way. Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Co., EMC Corp., IBM and Network Appliance Inc. are among the GSI's members.

Many of the same vendors are members of an industry group with a slightly broader focus, the  Green Grid Alliance, which has also been working with the department of energy and developing metrics on the efficient use of power in data centers.

While medium-sized companies don't have to deal with the same critical issues as large companies, they are faced with expanding their data center operations as data continues to grow.

"Midsized companies should not be oblivious to the green issue, because everyone wants to save money on their operations," Clark adds.

For Norbie, medium-sized businesses present a wealth of opportunities. For example, the new political emphasis on being environmentally friendly has led utility companies to give credits for energy efficiency. VARs can also demonstrate to customers how technologies like server virtualization and data deduplication can result in cost reductions, or even catch customers who are looking for options to redesign their data centers. All these options mean one thing: "Midmarket clients are looking for alternatives, and one of them has to be looking for an energy-efficient, smarter footprint in the data center. Developing a green IT strategy is something that makes good business sense," Norbie said.

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