Authors Note:

A while ago I wrote this piece.  I have been revisiting the “greenness” of SharePoint recently with clients and decided to re-post this piece as a blog entry for posterity and as part of a wider series of posts I’m planning in relation to SharePoint outside the scope of it’s “purpose”.

Enjoy!

Does SharePoint really have Green credentials?  Can it really help you in Greenificating your IT operations, and by association, your entire business?

In 2008, IBM published research demonstrating that powering hardware typically costs twice the price of purchasing it year-on-year.  Despite being part of a calculation to determine total cost of ownership (TCO) in pounds and pence, many organisations are also now taking the green cost into consideration.  Given this, how can Microsoft’s flagship server product, Office SharePoint Server, demonstrate green credentials?

The principal snag with Green IT (as I see it) lays in the definition; what is “Green IT”?  The web is not so forthcoming with answers, lots of opinion, but no answers so I guess it is down to the individual (either organisationally or the people within) to define what constitutes “Green” in relation to IT.

For me, any reduction of anything harmful that is measurable would constitute something being “Greener”, but defining a level for “Greenness” is for smarter people than I. 

Based on this thinking, I will pose the question – Can SharePoint help to Greenificate your IT operations?

Firstly I believe it must be important to differentiate between how SharePoint is greener directly as opposed to how SharePoint can be made greener indirectly.  What do I mean by this?  If SharePoint is to be deployed using virtualisation technology such as Hyper-V or VMware it can be made greener indirectly meaning that SharePoint itself is not the cause of the improved greenness but a complimentary technology that makes more efficient use of hardware assets is providing the Greenification.  For SharePoint to be directly greener we need to be getting the green gain as a direct result of changes or practices made possible by the platform itself.

So where does SharePoint score on the green front?  There is lots of material available about how various technologies help make IT operations greener, distilling this down to valid SharePoint greenness is definitely harder than I first thought, but I have arrived at the following thinking:

1.  SharePoint saves energy through reduced printing/output

The web enabled nature of SharePoint enables seamless online search, view and edit of information that is stored in the system.  Some of the most frequently used information within organisations can easily be made available within the SharePoint environment:

  • Phone books
  • Policies
  • Procedures
  • Templates
  • Menus

This digital store, retrieve and process capability can be extended to support more advanced functionality such as:

  • Digital review/approval
  • Forms
  • Dashboards

By providing a digital online viewing mechanism for all of this information, the habit of users printing (almost) everything by users can be eliminated.

2.  SharePoint saves energy by making system consolidation a reality

The historical nature of company growth and server purchase frequently results in organisations suffering from “server sprawl”.  File systems don’t scale well and organisations simply buy more servers, external arrays or desktop storage devices to meet growth requirements. 

Needing less hardware can bring many green benefits:

  • Powered manufacturing requirement of computing hardware
  • Increased reuse of existing equipment
  • Reduced power consumption

SharePoint makes two areas of green improvement possible:

Firstly, multiple distributed fileservers can be consolidated into a single SharePoint farm.

Secondly, use of SharePoint as a storage repository enables companies to benefit from the massively scalable nature of SQL Server as a storage mechanism, no need to buy new servers as you grow, just add components to existing systems.

3.  SharePoint saves energy through improved findability

By combining good user interface design with a great search engine, SharePoint systems can reduce search based energy consumption in multiple ways.

  • Less CO2 per search
    • The intuitive, intelligent search capabilities of Search Server (the underlying SharePoint search technology) allows users to find what they need faster than ever before
    • Less wasted time
      • Good design allows users to reduce the time it takes to find information intuitively (i.e. not using a search tool) centrally stored information such as forms, policies and procedures can be browsed for and found quickly, reducing the time users spend using IT resources

It is fair to say that a “great user interface design” is the responsibility of the using organisation as the out of the box UI is not great, but if a viable UI is mapped onto a well thought-out site taxonomy, users will definitely spend less time looking for information they need to work with.

4.  SharePoint saves energy by enabling improved business process and business optimisation

As a core component of the Information Worker product suite (also including Microsoft Office), SharePoint provides many mechanisms for improved business processes and business practice execution. 

Effective use of SharePoint as a platform for the 3C’s; Communication, Collaboration and Co-ordination can massively improve green organisational performance on many fronts:

  • Fewer requirements to travel
    • Sharing of information digitally
    • Audio/video conferencing
    • Fewer requirements to ship/post information
      • Extranets
      • Integrated email notification
    • Fewer people
      • Unnecessary staff consume resources
    • Fewer facilities
      • Distribution of personnel can be improved
      • Home working a reality

Conclusions?

Once I really started to think about the direct green benefits that can be derived from effective use of SharePoint I began to appreciate how much the system can benefit organisations and the environment.  Previously I was almost solely focused on the organisational benefits that companies can realise from improved communication, collaboration and co-ordination.  From now on I will also be helping clients to understand the green benefits of the 3C’s and how they can be manifested using SharePoint technologies.