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Dell Calls on Government for Green IT Push

Green Tech and Earth Day
WASHINGTON -- Dell observed Earth Day by laying out a policy agenda that calls on the administration to enact a government-wide plan for energy-efficient IT that would the freeze energy consumption rates of federal datacenters at their current levels.

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) envisions the administration taking strong leadership in directing CIOs across the various agencies to cut through red tape and put green IT projects on the fast track, a move that could net significant cost savings in the long term.

"It is technically possible, but it's a lot of work. It takes somebody to set that vision and give them a mandate and ask them to go after it," Paul Bell, president of Dell's global public-sector division, said at a news conference today. "We think a bold mandate across the entire federal government would be very appropriate right now."

Dell's pitch comes as policies to drive green IT are enjoying increasing political popularity. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the economic stimulus bill, allocated $26 billion toward energy-efficiency projects. The Alliance to Save Energy, an advocacy group promoting energy conservation, estimates that there is as much as $75 billion in stimulus money available for projects that could indirectly drive efficient energy usage.

For the federal government, energy-related IT costs are considerable. Citing estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency, Bell noted that the government currently spends $450 million to power federal datacenters. That figure will rise to $740 million in 2011 by today's energy-consumption rates, he said.

President Obama has created a pair of White House positions that will be heavily involved with the government's efforts to lower it IT-related energy consumption. In March, Obama named Vivek Kundra the country's first CIO. Then on Saturday, Obama tapped Aneesh Chopra for the new position of federal CTO, a role that will likely focus both on internal government IT and technology policies that affect the industry.

At the most basic level, that increase is driven by a government apparatus that is expanding its datacenter infrastructure as it becomes increasingly reliant on IT.

"That is a good thing, but there are goods ways and bad ways to do it from an energy-consumption point of view," Bell said.

Just as in the private sector, government datacenters continue to suffer from underutilized servers and inefficient designs that drive up cooling and power costs.

Technologies such as virtualization, where different parts of a single machine perform separate computing tasks at the same time, could bring substantial savings to government datacenters, Bell said.

Of course Dell, a major government IT supplier, could stand to benefit considerably from a push to retrofit federal datacenters. The company has been moving aggressively to develop its own virtualization tools, and a product line that could open up a lucrative source of revenue through government contracts.

Other firms, such as Dell rival Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), have also been talking up ways to make government IT more energy-efficient through virtualization and related technologies.

In its recommendations to the government, Dell suggested that an agency such as the EPA begin by undertaking a full review of IT energy efficiency across the federal datacenters. Many CIOs have been lax about measuring and monitoring energy consumption, Bell said.

They could start by simply unplugging all of the largely underused servers they find in their datacenters, he suggested.

Going forward, Dell is asking the government to require any new datacenter to be built with the greenest possible footprint. The administration should mandate that all existing datacenters be retrofitted to a virtualized, energy-efficient operation within three years, Bell said.

Finally, Dell is calling on the government to link up its datacenters to smart electrical grids, networked technology that can moderate power costs by adjusting consumption to match the peaks and valleys of energy usage.

The smart gird, another key priority of the administration, has widespread support in the IT industry, with firms like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and IBM (NYSE: IBM) making significant investments in the technology.

As for the private sector, Dell is looking to the government to offer incentives to encourage energy-efficient IT, but stopped short of calling for full-fledged regulations.

Bell recommended that the government allow companies to either expense or accelerate the depreciation they claim for retrofitting datacenters if they can demonstrate improvements in energy efficiency of at least 25 percent.

He also suggested that an agency like the Small Business Administration take into account energy efficiency when it evaluates loan applications.

Joining Bell at today's event was Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. Callahan praised the IT industry for doing more to drive energy efficiency than any other sector of the economy.

In the past three decades, automakers have seen average improvements in energy efficiency of 40 percent, she said. Computers, by contrast, have become nearly 3 million percent more energy efficient in the same time period by the measurement of instruction per second per watt.

"We believe there ought to be a national strategy, not just for deploying information and communications technologies, but really a strategy to put the U.S. on the path to be the most energy-efficient economy in the world," Callahan said.

At present, her group reckons that the United States ranks at the bottom of all industrialized nations in terms of energy efficiency.

"That is not the place we want to be, and it's not the place the U.S. is used to being," Callahan said. "We need to be first, not last."