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Optimizing your IT for today's economy

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To compete today and thrive tomorrow, midsized businesses will need more dynamic infrastructures. The reasons are everywhere. Businesses, people and governments around the globe are becoming increasingly interconnected. Computing is now embedded into everything from RFID tags to automobiles. All of these connections result in the creation and exchange of more and more data—which calls for increased computing power and greater data storage capabilities that allow companies to perform with greater agility and respond to opportunity faster.

And when it comes to weathering the current economic climate, green IT initiatives are proving to be ideal for tackling cost-cutting measures without compromising business value. Aaron Hay, senior research consultant at Info-Tech Consulting Group, explains, "Green IT is an umbrella of technologies and initiatives that provide some sort of business value—and usually provide cost savings associated with the reduction of some consumables. For example, server virtualization is the easiest example people are able to relate to. You're reducing the costs of servers that you have to buy in the future, but you're also reducing your energy footprint. The result is that you're reducing your environmental impact."

Virtualization and consolidation initiatives are also instrumental to enabling a more dynamic infrastructure. These activities can help companies address operational cost and complexity—while also helping achieve breakthrough productivity gains. How? To start with, a virtualized IT environment offers a common management platform which reduces the complexity IT administration. Also, by eliminating hardware sprawl through the deployment of virtual servers, data availability, uptime and accessibility improve since virtualized environments typically have more load-balancing capabilities to handle traffic spikes. In this way virtualization helps reinvent infrastructure, making it leaner, flexible and smarter.

Data demands make virtualized IT a smart choice

In a cost-conscious business environment, it's little wonder that virtualization and consolidation activities are accelerating in midsized organizations. According to a recent Info-Tech report (PDF, 2.2MB), Green IT: Why Mid-size Businesses Are Investing Now, over 70 percent of server and storage virtualization projects realize cost savings in a number of areas.

Virtualization also addresses another operational issue fast becoming a widespread problem for most midsized businesses: running out of computing and storage capacity. According to the Info-Tech report, nearly 60 percent of all midsized businesses will run out of processing and storage capacity within a year.

As Info-Tech's Hay notes, increased reliance on data will continue to fill existing resources to the brim. "It's just a data-driven economy where things are no longer done by hand and processes become more automated."

But businesses are getting smarter about the way they work in this digitally-driven world where people and systems are increasingly interconnected. Long-standing methods of simply adding more computing and storage hardware to manage data are fast becoming obsolete—just as using a single server to run a single application is recognized as an unproductive way to use computing resources. As Hay explains, "There is a greater awareness of the amount of waste that is currently built into IT infrastructures…short term, you could add more storage. Long term, that's not a very sustainable solution."

Many of these short-term solutions to increasing data capabilities can create other problems, such as the need for additional real estate to house more hardware—and more energy to run it. According to the Info-Tech study, 58 percent of IT managers in midsized businesses surveyed say they must reduce energy consumption to adhere to budget cuts.

Server and storage virtualization come of age

In addition to operational pressures, midsized organizations need to increase their ability to compete and communicate in today's interconnected world. With a stable IT infrastructure, an organization is simply more likely to thrive in today's markets and meet customer demands more quickly. That's why Hay and other industry experts point to the need to virtualize servers and storage—as well as desktop devices.

And when it comes to managing data, server and storage virtualization provides a way to cost-effectively and quickly expand capacity, Hay says. "If you have five applications running on a server where previously you needed five servers, well, you've just consolidated it five to one—and you've really increased the cost-effectiveness of buying that server," he explains. And with storage virtualization and consolidation, he notes, midsized businesses can discover new efficiencies by eliminating version-control problems that stem from storing information in multiple locations and devices.

Growing desktop virtualization adoption adds to IT cost savings

Virtualization benefits don't end with servers and storage. Businesses can also get greener and leaner with desktop virtualization, which is fast becoming a more viable option for many midsized organizations. These environments are characterized by thin-client connections that link individual PCs to servers—so that operating systems, applications and files are held on servers instead of residing on individual PCs.

Once used almost exclusively in very large corporate settings such as call centers where hundreds and even thousands of users performed similar tasks, the thin-client model is now accessible for smaller organizations. Hay says one reason for this newfound accessibility can be found in how the proliferation of virtualized server and storage environments provides the scalability needed to support multiple desktops without internal processing capabilities.

While this is a radical departure from the familiar model of accessing information from a single machine, the benefits can be significant. Beyond purchasing and setup costs, low maintenance requirements add to the budgetary advantages of virtualized desktop environments, Hay says. "You're running all of your desktops on a single server—well, that means you can update all of your desktops in one location," he points out. "The advantages are just an order of magnitude better than operating on the client server model." And as the Info-Tech study found, over 65 percent of desktop virtualization projects get measurable results, such as lower maintenance costs.

New efficiencies lead to worldwide benefits

While Hay says that operational cost is the primary motivation for the adoption of green IT in midsized businesses, these initiatives also provide other benefits not typically associated with traditional business technology. Businesses, for example, are able to make better decisions because information access is improved in stable environments capable of holding massive amounts of data.

It's a critical consideration in an increasingly interconnected world. As new devices come online everyday, more demands are placed on IT infrastructures to handle the increase in transactions. But with virtualization and consolidation reducing technology and networking costs, midsized businesses can start thinking about mining more information and providing more services.

Virtualization and consolidation can also help midsized organizations add environmental stewardship to their capabilities—and be seen as responsible organizations with which to do business. "It is good public relations to be taking action along the environmental front," Hay says. And then there are broad societal benefits of doing more with less: using less hardware quite simply reduces carbon output.

As Hay explains, "It's all about using the resources that you have at your fingertips as efficiently as possible—that's where the environmental benefits really do arise." And midsized businesses are finding that initiating these technologies really is good for business and the environment.

Content copyrighted by IBM Corporation.

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