Does IBM Lotus Really Want to Get Small? My Take on Brent Leary’s Podcast

I still haven’t had time to write about Lotusphere 2010, but in the meantime, you may want to listen to the conversation I had with small business guru and friend Brent Leary. Last week, Brent interviewed me about my take on this year’s Lotus event, announcements and news.

Naturally, our conversation centered on the small business angle, which Brent quite appropriately titled, Does IBM Really Want to Get Small? Thoughts From The Lotusphere with Laurie McCabe. Like many others before him, Brent was curious about how serious IBM really is about pursuing small businesses—and ready to gear up against some very serious competition from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Zoho and others to win small business hearts and minds. You can listen to or download the conversation here (just scroll to the bottom of the page).

Standing Out in a Sea of Green IT: IBM’s Scalable Modular Data Centers for Midsize Companies

As a follow up to my post What Is Green IT and Why Should You Care?, I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Sams, VP for IBM’s Global Site and Facilities Services, along with several other members of IBM’s green team. As part of its Smarter Planet mission, IBM is active on all fronts in the green IT movement, with many technology-related products and services that help companies be more environmentally responsible.

We discussed several of these, from desktop virtualization to supply chain and transportation management. One of the initiatives that I was most interested in is IBM’s Scalable Modular Data Center (SMDC) for midsize companies. SMDC provides end-to-end consulting and implementation services (including planning, design, construction and full production testing) to help firms run their IT operations in a greener, more cost-efficient way. Despite the sluggish economic recovery, take up for the service has been phenomenal. Since announcing SMDC about 30 months ago, IBM has implemented more than 200 scalable modular data centers for midsize organizations, and helped another 200 to 300 customers a year to restructure existing facilities to achieve energy and cost savings and improve IT reliability and performance.

With so many green IT offerings vying for midsize customers’ attention, why is SMDC gaining so much momentum? I see a few key ways in which this solution stands out in the sea of green IT, including:

  • Connecting the dots to illustrate big picture value. Many companies want to reduce their carbon footprint, but they also need a clear and compelling connection between energy-efficiency and financial and IT performance gains. IBM has developed a strong business case for SMDC and provided customer metrics to back it up. For example, IBM and Business Partner American Power Conversion (APC) worked with Bryant University, a small private college in Rhode Island, to improve IT service levels, cut energy costs and reduce operational costs.  Bryant replaced four server rooms—none of which were providing the reliability and performance it needed—with a SMDC. As a result, Bryant has reduced energy consumption by 15% and operational costs by 21%, while providing a 12 to 15% improvement in service delivery.
  • Starting with an upfront assessment service to determine if a company can stretch the life of an existing facility, or if it needs to build a new one. The first question the SMDC service helps customers answer is whether they can retrofit an existing facility to achieve the reliability gains and energy and cost efficiencies they need, or if they need to replace it.

If the customer has a traditional data center, IBM can often help the customer redesign it to increase utilization and efficiency. According to Steve Sams, most organizations use only 10% to 20% of their available technology capacity—and sometimes utilization is as low as 5%. Servers are cheap, so customers often end up just adding more servers to satisfy different requirements, without regard to the total operational costs. As a result, a company may be spending up to ten times more than they need on software licenses, maintenance, management, etc. As alarmingly, they also overspend on energy to power, heat and cool under-utilized equipment and space. In many cases, IBM can help customers use existing space and technology assets more efficiently. Simple things, such as turning up the temperature in the data center, moving things around for better airflow, and consolidating servers can generate up to 23% in energy savings, and about 40% to 50% of the total operational costs of the running the data center.

In other cases, such as with Bryant University, the organization doesn’t have a purpose-built data center. Servers, storage and networking gear are stashed in closets or spare office space. IBM helps them to replace this type of jury-rigged space with a modular data center that reduces energy costs up to 15% and improves IT reliability and performance.

  • Centering design on midsize business requirements. SMDC services can serve companies with data center needs as small as 500 square feet. When a customer needs to start from scratch, SMDC provides a modular approach. New space can be added as needed in a plug and play fashion. With this approach, companies can reduce upfront capital costs by as much as 25%, and shrink ongoing expenses for electricity, maintenance, and energy consumption by 15%.
  • End-to-end project lifecycle support. In addition to technology and energy assessment and implementation services, IBM provides data center construction planning when required. While Big Blue doesn’t pour concrete, it does develop design criteria and specifications, and provides a construction project manager to run the project. This includes monitoring and managing recycling for both construction material, such as steel and wood, as well as IT equipment. This end-to-end engagement is an important value-add for midsize companies.
  • Helping to overcome cultural obstacles. Politics is often the obstacle that stops companies from making strides to consolidate IT operations in a more environmentally friendly facility. In some cases, strong business owner across different functions or departments want to control “their own IT”. They don’t want to let go of physical and operational control of IT infrastructure. IBM consulting services can provide companies with the facts and data points to convince skeptics of the business benefits of streamlining and centralizing IT facilities. Stakeholders can improve energy efficiency and cut costs for the organization, and get better IT performance and reliability. Furthermore, by reducing ongoing IT facility, maintenance and energy costs, they can free up resources for new initiatives.

The bottom line is that IBM has a very good story to tell as to how SMDC can help midsize companies gain significant capital savings, reduce ongoing expenses and cut energy consumption. IBM is also currently piloting a scalable modular server room service in India. This program provides a similar approach and benefits for smaller companies, whose data center footprint needs range from 10 to 50 square meters (roughly 100 to 500 square feet). IBM recently published its first success story in this space with Karad Urban Cooperative Bank.

As this pilot wraps up in the first half of 2010, I hope to get another update from IBM so I can give you some ideas as to how smaller companies can also go green and save green. In the meantime, let me know what’s motivating your business to explore green IT solutions in this poll.

SMB Collaboration Battle Heats Up: VMware Announces Deal to Acquire Zimbra

As we predicted just a couple of weeks ago in our 2010 Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions, the collaboration battle is heating up! VMware just announced that has entered into a definitive agreement with Yahoo! to acquire Zimbra, which provides email and collaboration software.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but under the terms of the agreement, VMware will buy all Zimbra technology and intellectual property.  Yahoo! will continue to have the right to use Zimbra technology in its communications services. Perhaps most interesting, Zimbra has about 55 million paid mailboxes—many of which are in small and medium businesses—which VMware will support as well.

The Zimbra acquisition gives VMware an email and collaboration solution of its own that it can package with its desktop virtualization solutions, cross-sell to existing VMware customers, or sell as a standalone solution. Zimbra enables VMware to diversify, giving the vendor another entrée into the coveted small and medium business market. Especially at the lower end of this market, where core virtualization solutions can be a very tough sell, Zimbra provides an alternative path to customers—and revenues.

As noted in our 2010 Top Ten SMB Predictions, email and collaboration are universal–everyone uses them, no matter their role or function in a business. This makes this area extremely attractive to an expanding array of vendors, many of whom are venturing into this territory for the first time. As web-based collaboration solutions replace traditional systems, VMware can ride into the race on a strong horse.

What Is Green IT, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published in Small Business Computing, December 29, 2009)

Technology insiders tend to throw around technical terms and business jargon, assuming people outside the industry understand what it all means. By its nature, technology vocabulary is often confusing and complicated, and insiders often add to the confusion by over-complicating things. To help add a sense of clarity to the confusion, each month, Laurie McCabe, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates (a business consulting firm), will pick a technology term, explain what it means in plain English, and then discuss why it may be important to you. This month, Laurie takes a look at Green IT.

What is Green IT?

Green IT refers to the study and practice of using computers and IT resources in a more efficient and environmentally responsible way. Computers and computing eat up a lot of natural resources, from the raw materials needed to manufacture them, the power used to run them, and the problems of disposing them at end of life.

Why Should You Care?

All businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on technology, and small business is no exception. We work on our PCs, notebooks and smart phones all day, connected to servers running 24/7.  Because the technology refresh cycle is fast, these devices quickly become obsolete, and at some point—more often sooner than later—we dispose of old devices and replace them with new ones. We use massive quantities of paper and ink to print documents, many of which we promptly send to the circular file.

In the process, most businesses waste resources, in the form of energy, paper, money and time—resources you could invest to develop new products or services, or to hire and train employees. Even if you aren’t a tree hugger, it makes good business sense to green your IT environment and culture.

Fortunately, there are many simple steps you can take to do this, no matter what the size of your business, or how far along you are in the process. Many IT vendors have major initiatives underway to green their products, services and practices. These include building computers with more environmentally friendly materials, designing them to be consume less energy, providing recycling programs to dispose of old systems, developing virtualization and cloud computing alternatives, and providing tips to businesses that want to go green.

What to Consider

Creating a sustainable business isn’t just for big businesses. With help from several vendors (links to their green initiatives are at the end of this article), I’ve compiled some practical tips to help you get started or continue on the path to go green and save green.


  • Eliminate paper, printer and packaging waste. Statistics from Infotrends indicate that the average office worker used 130 pounds of paper in 2008. Try tools such as Green Print make people “think before they print” and automatically eliminate things such as printing that extra page with only a footer or disclaimer on it. Buy remanufactured toner cartridges and get personal ink cartridges refilled to save money and waste. If you’re looking for an new printer, shop for one that automatically prints double-sided, such Dell’s 2335dn Multi-function Laser Printer or HP’s LaserJet P2055d.  When shopping for new products, look for eco-friendly packaging. For instance, Dell recently announced that it will use highly renewable bamboo as packaging for it’s Inspiron Mini 10 and 10v netbooks.
  • Reduce power consumption. The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance found that businesses can reduce their average power consumption through effective power management. “Set it and forget” tools, such smart power strips, which automatically turn off peripheral devices when you turn off the main device. When buying new equipment, look for EnergyStar 4.0 ratings and above. Try Edison, a free application helps you monitor energy use and save energy. Intuit QuickBooks users can use Intuit Green Snapshot to estimate their firm’s carbon footprint and get recommendations to conserve energy and dollars.
  • Recycle old equipment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that  only 18% of electronic waste was collected for recycling in 2007—while 82%, or 1.84 million tons, was disposed of, primarily in landfills. But its easy to recycle: At Gazelle you can sell and/or recycle all kinds of electronic devices, from mobile phones to printers. Through Dell and Goodwill’s Reconnect Partnership, you can donate unwanted devices. All proceeds go to support Goodwill—and you get a tax write-off. Or go online to IBM’s Asset Recovery Program, and get a buyback quote for the value of 1 to 250 items.


  • Use Web conferencing instead of traveling to meetings. Web conferencing is a great way to go green—and save huge amounts of time and money. Ecopreneurist states that if every small business owner in the United States conducted one teleconference in lieu of a domestic business trip, we would save $25.4 billion dollars in travel expenses and 10.5 million tons of C02 in just one year. Web conferencing vendors such as Adobe Acrobat Connect, Citrix GoToMeeting, IBM Lotus Sametime and Cisco Webex offer free 30-day trials. Newer entrants such as Dimdim and Zoho offer free Web conferencing.
  • Transition from paper based to digital processes. Paper-based marketing, forms and faxes add a lot of trash to landfills.  Email marketing solutions are greener and  more affordable, flexible and interactive than direct mail. Free and low-cost online invoicing solutions such as Sage BillingBoss and Freshbooks, and online faxing solutions such as myfax and RingCentral Fax also help cut down on paper waste.
  • Use cloud computing and software-as-a-service solutions (SaaS) instead of running a new application in-house. With cloud computing, multiple organizations share the same computing resources, which increases utilization by making more efficient use of hardware resources. For instance, researcher Greenspace found that with more than 6,000 customer companies sharing datacenter resources, NetSuite’s cloud ERP and CRM solution saved more than $61 million in energy bills per year, or nearly 595 million kilowatt-hours (kWh), the equivalent of nearly 423,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Almost every kind of application in the cloud, from personal productivity applications to accounting to industry-specific solutions—for every size company. If you use dedicated hosting services, shop for green hosting providers that use solar or wind power, and take advantage of energy saving technologies such as virtualization.


  • Enable staff to telecommute. While it may not work for every employee or business, the American Electronics Association estimates that 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline would be conserved yearly if every U.S. worker who has the ability to telecommute did so 1.6 days per week. Technologies such as virtual private networks, and collaboration tools such as HyperOffice and IBM LotusLive help employees work together from different locations.
  • Server and storage virtualization. Because hardware itself is relatively inexpensive, many midsize and even small companies are facing server and storage sprawl. But by 2012, experts estimate that for every dollar you spend on a server, it will cost $1 to power and cool it. Meanwhile, surveys show that up to 85% of systems capacity goes unused. While you will have to invest in initial start up costs, virtualization can help you improve resource utilization, reduce energy costs and simplify maintenance. Dell, HP and IBM each offer a range of comprehensive server and storage virtualization solutions and services.
  • Develop a thin client strategy. Netbooks and other thin clients use about ½ the power of a traditional desktop PC. They are  smaller, cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy and operate. Thin clients run Web browsers, and/or remote desktop virtualization software, such as Microsoft Remote Desktop Services,Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View so you can use the desktop environment that you’re used to. With these solutions, you can also extend the life of older PCs and/or buy less expensive refurbished PCs to save money and reduce waste.

Links to green IT initiatives from vendors that contributed ideas to this article: