With energy and power costs increasing as the size of IT infrastructures grow, holding expenses to a minimum is quickly becoming a top priority for many IT pros. Virtualization has helped in that respect by allowing organizations to consolidate their servers onto fewer pieces of hardware, which can result in sizable cost savings. The datacenter is where virtualization can have the greatest impact, and it’s there where many of the largest companies in the virtualization space are investing their resources.

Microsoft has been aggressively moving into green computing initiatives over the past few years, both to externally promote their green computing technology solutions and to reduce costs on their own massive data centers. Given that Microsoft’s family of Web sites are some of the most highly-trafficked on the internet, finding a solution that can meet their business needs while saving on increasing power and energy costs is a must.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke at CeBIT last week, and--after engaging in a hokey CeBIT ribbon cutting ceremony involving Ballmer, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a Microsoft Surface demo unit serving as the ribbon--used his press conference to stress Microsoft’s commitment to green technology, which heavily leverages virtualization.

In an excerpt from his speech quoted by The Register, Ballmer touted the ability of Microsoft’s Hyper-V technology to drive their power production costs even lower. "We are on a path to build some of the most power-efficient data centers in the world, 40% more efficient than a few years ago, and we think our Hyper-V virtualization technology could take data center power consumption down by another five times." (Microsoft’s green data center blog also includes a link to additional video shown during Ballmer’s speech.)

VMware is no stranger to using virtualization for energy and cost savings, having arrived on the virtualization scene years before Microsoft. Like Microsoft, VMware promotes green computing initiatives in its marketing efforts, relying on a green computing Web site to describe the energy savings that can result from adopting virtualization. According to IDC research quoted by VMware on their green computing site, the lack of server consolidation using virtualization costs American businesses more than $140 Billion dollars, with more than 20 million servers producing more than 80 million tons of CO2 per year. VMware and IDC claim those figures represent more CO2 emissions than the country of Thailand and more than half of all the countries in South America. (See the IDC report here.)

It’s Not Easy Being Green
Yet despite all the attention being paid to green computing by the media and companies providing green computing solutions, some recent research has shown that the industry has a long way to go to convince CIOs and IT pros to take a dive into the deep end of the green computing pool.

In a recent survey of IT professionals, the Aperture Research Institute (ARI) found that many people responsible for actually buying into this new wave of green computing are taking a go slow approach. The 10-page ARI study has some great information that every IT administrator should read, but here’s a telling excerpt from the study that reveals how much work vendors like VMware and Microsoft may have to do before some data center managers embrace green computing completely:

"While vendors are increasingly using 'green marketing' to sell, data center management is yet to be persuaded that vendors' claims are genuine. 42% complained that they have no way to validate the claims, and 26% dismissed them outright as hype." (Read the full ARI research report here.)

There’s no doubt that technology advances like virtualization, blade computing, and low-power software and hardware design can (and currently are) saving money and driving up efficiency for every company that happens to be employing them. That said, implementing these initiatives in a data center isn't always as simple as vendors claim, with a host of concerns that IT pros need to address during implementation. These can range from such basic considerations as installation costs and retraining expenses, to more complicated issues such as virtual machine management, eliminating single points of failure, and potentially costly reconfiguration of existing IT infrastructure to work with these technologies. Cutting costs and saving on energy use is an admirable goal, but it's clear that vendors need to do a better job of communicating the benefits (and potential costs and pitfalls) of adopting a green computing solution for the data center.