A Small Business Guide to Green IT

Wednesday Jun 13th 2012 by Pedro Hernandez
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Three tips for lowering your IT power requirements and enlisting the cloud to supercharge your business.

Running a small business is challenging enough without having to worry about its environmental footprint. Nonetheless, there are solid reasons to adopt eco-friendly practices in the workplace.

If nothing else, building and maintaining a reputation for sustainability can help your business attract customers. A recent Harris Interactive survey conducted for Tork, a maker of hygiene products, found that 82 percent of American adults claim to be well informed about companies and brands with a strong track record for sustainability.

What's more, 80 percent of those consumers let that knowledge guide their purchasing decisions. Why pass up an opportunity to appeal to so many potential customers?

A good way to start establishing your green cred is to cut your energy use -- a cost-savings strategy that can also help improve the bottom line. And today, that means making smarter technology decisions, particularly involving computer hardware and software.

Buying Green PCs

You have a dizzying array of options to choose from when it comes to computer hardware. Once you determine which type of processor, how much storage and the type of extras you need, it's time to see which computer and server models meet the standards of a green PC.

green small business IT

These tips can help your small business go green -- and save green -- at the same time.

How? You can do a lot of the research yourself, like determining whether a system that you have in mind has a 90-plus power supply or a low-power processor. But who has that kind of time?

Instead, take a cue from the federal government. A huge IT buyer, the U.S. government mandates that the majority of the PCs its agencies procure are Energy Star rated or adhere to Federal Energy Management Program standards. It may sound complex, but it isn't.

That's because the feds use a registry called EPEAT that takes the guesswork out of buying energy-saving computers. EPEAT stands for the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, and there's no shortage of participating vendors including Dell, HP, Apple and Lenovo. The Green IT ratings system meets and in some cases exceeds the Energy Star specification.

The EPA estimates that Americans would save $1.8 billion each year if all the computers sold in the United States met Energy Star requirements. Plus, the equivalent of more than 2 million vehicles in greenhouse gas emissions would disappear.

A quick search of the registry yields desktops, notebooks, workstations and displays that not only save energy, but also meet stringent standards on recyclability, durability and product lifecycle management depending on the rating they receive. EPEAT-rated products are categorized into bronze, silver and gold.

To start, head over to EPEAT's product search page and select the options that best reflect your requirements. Make sure to select "Active Products Only" if you're in the market for the latest hardware offerings and available product lines. Otherwise, click "Active and Archived Products" or "Archived Products Only" if you're looking for refurbished or remanufactured gear.

For instance, as of this writing a search for Dell desktops delivers a healthy 38 results, all of which earned a Gold rating. Not a bad way to kick off your green IT buying.

Saving Money with Energy Management

Once you purchase your Energy Star or EPEAT rated computers, it's time to maximize their energy-saving potential. Fortunately, the following tips work on any type of PC.

For Windows 7 systems, users can save energy using a "balanced" power plan that dims the display and puts the system to sleep after a predetermined time. But IT pros may want to dive deeper and select more aggressive options.

Similarly, Mac users can save energy and extend battery life by visiting the Energy Saver pane in System Preferences. It's a simple matter of nudging some sliders left or right to determine when the computer and/or display should go into sleep mode after a period of inactivity. Users can also set up sleep and wake schedules for predictable time-based environments.

If you manage more than a handful of PCs, configuring each and everyone can quickly become a chore -- not to mention that users could tinker with the settings and undo your work. In that case, consider centralized PC power management software.

There are many solutions available, but 1E's NightWatchman stands apart with support for Macs and Windows PCs as well as a wealth of options. For Windows-only shops, consider PowerMinder. Tech-savvy sorts can set up group policies in Active Directory to enforce power management settings over Windows systems on their networks.

Cloudify Your Apps

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) products let small businesses tap into IT resources that were once reserved for large enterprises, minus the hefty electric bill. With broadband access and subscription payments, SMBs can have data backup, collaboration, email, productivity software and a whole host of applications without deploying a single server.

Generally, that means big savings in server hardware costs and in the power required to keep them running. Other benefits typically include go-anywhere access to your data, enterprise-grade availability and data protection, mobile device support, regular upgrades and enhanced disaster recovery.

Of course, it's only natural to be on the fence about surrendering your sensitive data up to the cloud. Fear not, this Small Business Computing Guide that tackles "4 Mature Cloud Services Your SMB Can Adopt Today" will point you toward what types of workloads you can start transitioning to the cloud without worry.

For more advanced and ambitious cloud adoption strategies, there's an app guide for that, too.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is the lifeblood of many sales organizations. CRM cloud services providers set up with offerings from Salesforce.com, Zoho and Avidian. Even small business bookkeeping and accounting is getting in on the act with products like Sage One.

Before you start planning your next hardware and software purchase, check out the cloud services landscape. Chances are that there are several opportunities to retire a server, save on systems upkeep and management and spend more of your time on what really matters: running your business.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!
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