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24 February 2009

Sustainable IT

By Andrew Clifford

Sustainable IT isn't about low-power hardware and recycled paper. It's about recognising the importance of the ongoing management of IT.

It's a pity when really useful words get hijacked.

One such word is "sustainable". If you search for "sustainable IT", you get references to power consumption and going green. But sustainable means "able to keep going". And power consumptions is only one very small part of keeping your IT going.

In the full sense, "sustainable IT" encompasses everything you do to keep IT going indefinitely.

There are many parts to this.

You need to consider continuity of service. In the short term, this includes effective and repeatable processes for service delivery.

In the longer term, this includes everything you need to do to keep the service running smoothly. It includes managing performance. It includes ensuring that systems stay on current versions. It includes constant management of security. It includes plans for system recovery.

You have to sustain value through time. In part, value is sustained by sustaining service. But there is more to it than that. You have to start with IT that has a clear value, and avoid pet projects that have no proper business case. You have to add to the value, by being aware of and responsive to changing business conditions. If you have change request processes that are too good at saying "no", you will undermine the sustainability of value.

You have to think about sustainability of cost. This includes running costs, such as the choice of low-cost hardware and software, low power consumption, and good utilisation of resources. For example, you can use virtualization to make better use of the server resources that you have.

Cost sustainability includes replacement costs. If you let systems grow old prematurely, you incur replacement costs sooner. If you select and manage systems for longevity, and design them so that you can replace the ageing pieces independently, replacement costs can be hugely reduced.

IT must be able to keep going though organisational change. This includes user and support personnel changes. Properly managed, easy-to-use systems with good documentation survive these sorts of changes much better.

IT must also be able to survive major organisational changes, such as mergers and acquisitions. This is hard, but having IT with clear purpose and strong ownership makes this much easier.

I am sure I have missed out a lot, but you get the idea. Sustainability permeates the whole of your IT management effort. Everything you do, other than running projects and day-to-day service delivery, is about managing IT so that it can keep going. You need to use "sustainable" in the full sense, so that you have a good word to describe this responsibility.

Even if you are only concerned about energy, you need to think about all types of energy consumption through the whole life of your IT. You need to think about the energy costs of disruption and replacement. You need to make sure your IT delivers as much business value as possible per kilowatt-hour. You need to reduce the energy-consuming activities associated with retraining and reorganising, such as travel. To achieve "sustainable IT" in the narrow sense, you have to think about "sustainable IT" in its fullest sense.

Next: What's really important?

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