SOA's Green ROI


Determining SOA's return on investment is a topic my newspaper editor would have termed an "evergreen" story-and a perennial story. It's evergreen in that it's always timely, and perennial in that it will periodically pop up as a hot topic. And for good reason-SOA can be expensive and its payoff tends to come in years, not months, which makes it a risky venture in these cash-strapped times.


Joe McKendrick kicked off this year's spring "how to figure SOA ROI" discussion with this ebizQ column, "SOA is as Good as You Measure It," in which he shares important metrics for measuring SOA's performance. But more on that tomorrow.


Instead, in honor of Earth Day, I'd like to add to the ROI discussion with a look at SOA's potential for delivering a green ROI.


Of course, this topic has been covered before. In fact, it was a popular topic last year. Before Earth Day, InfoWorld ran "Are you ready for 'green SOA'?" The piece portrayed SOA as fundamental to a green corporation:


In fact, today, over 70 percent of SOA adoption/implementation rationale is business driven, vs. 30 percent in 2006. Technology may never again be the driving force in the corporate decision process, but in SOA, it will always be the implementation mechanism. Therefore, to correctly 'green' the corporation we must 'green' SOA.


But that article focused mainly on IBM's Green Sigma initiative, which left me wondering-if you remove the vendor and SOA hype of 2008, is there still a green-SOA connection?


Since my colleague, Carl Weinschenk had interviewed Deborah Grove, a principal with Grove Associates, about green IT last fall, I decided to ask Grove what she thought about SOA's potential for delivering green IT. I liked that she was a green IT specialist, rather than a SOA advocate, because I thought she'd have less interest in promoting SOA and more interest in being honest about what it takes to become a green IT organization.


Here's Grove's response:

I have long been of the opinion that SOA is key to the long-term definition of Green IT. Right now, we are picking up the 'low hanging fruit' by addressing the PUE (power usage effectiveness) of data centers' power consumption. However, looking at the entire IT food chain, ensuring that ecosystems of suppliers, partners, and customers are moving to an online collaborative style with less paper and less independent development of customized applications through the use of SOA means that fewer hardware pieces will be needed for dev and app servers. If we take a 'cradle-to-the grave' approach to IT, what GHG (greenhouse gases) are required to manufacture and transport servers to the landfill graveyard where most of the servers still go, fewer is better.


David Chappell of Oracle also believes there's a "Green ROI" with SOA. In a January blog post listing SOA ROI case studies, Chappel noted that Verizon Wireless used SOA to green its IT infrastructure, reducing its hardware footprint by 95 percent. The company measured its ROI by reducted tonnage of hardware in the data center, he wrote.


However, my personal favorite example of how SOA can be green is the two-year experiment by the The U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) , which used SOA as the foundation for a homeowner energy-reduction project. Homeowners could control their energy spending through smart devices and regular alerts about energy use and, on average, participants shaved approximately 10 percent off their electricity bills.


The hype cycle definitely seems to be a factor in which green IT initiatives you hear about on Earth Day. I couldn't help but notice that many of InfoWorld's 2009 Green IT Leaders leveraged that new tech darling, virtualization, just as last year, the focus was on SOA.


But I think there's definitely a reason to believe SOA's ability to contribute to green IT-and the potential of a green ROI-go beyond its brief time in the media sun on Earth Day 2008.


(As an aside, if you're more interested in the ROI of going green than going SOA, you might want to read my January interview with Chris O'Connor, the head of IBM Software Group Green.)