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ITWeb 16 March 2010

Once you understand baseline energy use, you can create a programme of efficiencies for using less energy, says sustainableIT CEO, Tim James.

For local wholesaler Makro, it took a look at the small details to reveal the potential for big efficiency benefits. A comprehensive energy audit of the store’s IT systems showed device management and server virtualisation could offer substantial gains on the green front.

As part of parent company Massmart’s green drive across its operations, Makro SA decided to determine the sustainability of its IT infrastructure, including architecture, equipment, and device disposal.

Pieter Schoeman, Makro SA’s IT and projects director, says it worked with local consultancy sustainableIT to identify changes which could be implemented in its 13 stores countrywide. “Specifically, we looked at the IT infrastructure we could put in place to operate successfully, and what to do to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Schoeman.

Makro supplied sustainableIT with information on its desktops, laptops, printers, point-of-sale (POS) devices, recycling programmes, server use, data warehousing, and utility bills.

“After determining the kind of infrastructure and technology Makro runs in its stores, we engaged in workshops with them to validate the data, and then compiled a report based on the information collected,” explains sustainableIT CEO, Tim James.

He says the whole process took around four to five weeks, after which the firm provided recommendations on how to use technology, and in which areas, for greater efficiency and reduced emissions.

“With these kinds of reports, we focus on big energy consumers and low-hanging fruit, which is mostly in the desktop and distributed environment,” says James.

This included simple changes, such as switching devices off at night. “Sometimes you can’t power down certain machines, but other times they’re left on just for the sake of it.”

But Schoeman adds one has to consider when to switch off equipment. “With POS, it’s sometimes tricky, because you have to run updates on the devices at night – you have to implement things where it makes sense.”

Cost-wise, there were some attractive potential benefits. “There are 720 POS sales lanes in-store and the report showed if we switched them all off at night, we could save R177 000 overall per year. Around 95% of POS can be switched off at night, so we’re looking into this,” says Schoeman. “Half of what was recommended we’re on our way to implementing.”

An area Makro had already tackled to a large extent, according to Schoeman, was the printing environment. “The report showed we’re on the right track, not necessarily by design, but because we already use things like multifunction printers, to fax, print, and copy with one machine.” The company also uses double-sided printing and switches the printers off at night.

“About 90% of the time, people print using the Xerox document centres, which helps get rid of small cartridges floating around and brings savings, not only in terms of maintenance, but by having fewer devices using electricity.”

Keeping track

What you don’t measure you can’t manage.Schoeman adds, however, that Makro doesn’t currently recycle its print cartridges, and is in discussion with Xerox to address this.

“At head office, we’re slowly issuing more people with laptops versus desktops; but in a retail environment, that doesn’t always make good business sense, so we’ll make sure devices are powered down at night.”

Another recent move involved switching over completely to LCD monitors, which Schoeman says use a third less electricity than normal CRT monitors.

He adds that it’s important to follow a replacement and refresh programme, because new equipment is often more efficient. “It doesn’t always pay to sweat your assets; you end up doing the sweating.”

For Schoeman, virtualisation was the biggest opportunity coming out of the exercise. “The report assists with building a business case for adding new technology, such as virtualisation, to reduce electricity consumption and improve redundancy.”

The Green Mile

ITWeb’s new series, The Green Mile, is a monthly feature focusing on an IT-related sustainability strategy. It aims to provide an in-depth, hands-on look at the processes involved in the green journey, and how it progresses from the first step to the final sign-off. Look out for next month’s feature, which explores the intricacies of implementing a green data centre.This includes virtualisation in its central data centre and switching in-store servers off at night. “We’re busy with a proof of concept, which in essence involves taking 10 servers down to two.”

This would provide a group saving of R55 000 per annum, adds Schoeman. “The plan is to implement it at our Woodmead branch and a new store we’re opening in Vanderbijlpark in October. We’ll test out the architecture there, and then start retrofitting in other stores.” He hopes to have virtualisation implemented across all stores by 2011.

Working with outsourcing partners EC Solutions and IBM, Makro could determine the exact energy savings if it reduced its server count, and the resulting saving in CO2 emissions.

“What you don’t measure you can’t manage,” notes James. “You have to understand baseline energy use, and then create a programme of efficiencies for using less energy.”

In terms of sustainability, Schoeman argues it’s also about ensuring processes are sustainable for the business. “The technology we’re considering doesn’t only reduce our carbon footprint, but increases solution efficiency, saving hundreds of thousands of rands and paying for itself.

“The challenge is always to ensure there’s no business disruption during the implementation, because if it impacts customers, it affects sales. You look at what the business can afford and what makes sense, and then start the process slowly and implement it over a number of years.

“But combined savings of around R250 000 make a pretty good business case,” adds Schoeman

He adds that Makro won’t partner with a supplier if it doesn’t embrace sustainability. “Whenever we’re in discussions with a service provider, it’s something we focus on; we want to ensure they’re also going down that route and that it’s top of mind.”

For Schoeman, it’s necessary to review processes on an ongoing basis, refresh in-store equipment to ensure specific standards are met, and continually measure performance to report back to stakeholders on progress. He hopes to do a follow-up review after the Vanderbijlpark store roll-out.

Schoeman adds that managers also share sustainability strategies across the Massmart chains, with a forum review held on a quarterly basis. “There’s a subtle message from Massmart that it expects you to abide by these principles. This will influence Makro’s future decision-making within IT.”

He advises IT managers to start thinking about the possibilities. “There’s lots of low-hanging fruit one can consider – LCD monitors, virtualisation. In my mind you have to start somewhere, but just start. Everything you do makes a difference.

“A lot of people have begun putting plans in place, but if you make an active decision to start, that already puts you on a path to drive and deliver changes.”

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