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Mid-Market Hero: SoCal Web Shop Goes Green - And Makes It Pay

Lots of small and midsize companies want to go green, but are afraid they can't afford it. Guidance, a Southern California Web design and e-commerce shop, makes it work for the planet, and the bottom line.

Fredric Paul

July 9, 2009

4 Min Read

Green Technology Choices

Guidance's green commitment also shows up in its technology choices. "We used to be a Dell partner," Provisor says, but three-to-four years ago the company researched technology vendors and went with HP, "for many reasons," including HP's green initiatives.

(Of course, Dell also touts its green initiatives, with CEO Michael Dell calling energy efficiency one of the top three themes driving the next generation of IT.)

Because Guidance's development team needs high-powered computers, the company leases its workstations on a 3-year replacement cycle, turning over about 20 machines a year. According to Provisor, the fleet currently consists of HP dc7800 and dc7900 convertible minitowers, with lots of RAM and very few applications other than the development environments.

Compared to the ongoing churn in desktops, "replacing our servers was a big deal," Provisor recalls. Guidance now relies on eight HP ProLiant DL 360 G5 and DL380 G5 machines running approximately 40 virtual servers using VMware and a back-end Storage Area Network (SAN). This environment lets the company "launch pretty much on the fly" for high-volume period, Provisor says.

Or course, for many of Guidance's customers, hosting is done via co-location at 365 Main and Savvis data centers in El Segundo, California. The key there, Provisor says, was to measure energy usage and look for the most efficient choices.

As noted, Guidance tracks its energy spending, and then buys offsets to account for carbon they use. Provisor acknowledges that carbon offsets are still the "Wild West" of the green movement. "I don't know if we can truly know" if offsets are working, Provisor says, "but right now it's the best we can do." The company tried working with a solar-powered data center, he says, but it didn't work out because the center was not reliable enough to serve Guidance's big retailer clients who could leave millions of dollars on the table during even short Web outages.

Before plunging in, Guidance did extensive research into the carbon offset market, and chose BeGreen Business, an offshoot of Green Mountain Energy, that sends certificates showing exactly how the carbon usage has been offset. (Check out BeGreen's Business Carbon Calculator to find out your company's emissions.)

Green Trends Where does Provisor see Guidance's green efforts going?

guidance-trends Provisor lays out the key "green" trends.

Unlike many small businesses, Guidance is not quite ready to put its trust in the cloud. While the company uses the cloud to stream graphics and video, "the cloud hasn't quite evolved yet for secure transactions online," Provisor says, because the SSL has to reside on a specific server. He expects that to change in the next year.

Partly for green reasons, Guidance encourages employees to telecommute one day a week, and is thus naturally interested in remote access technologies. For now, the company relies on Netmeeting and Adobe Connect to stay in touch. The long-term goal, Provisor says, is to create virtual desktops on a virtual servers, and telecommuters would use Flash to get complete access to everything on a notebook where ever they may be.

But if thin clients have failed before, why would things be different this time? "The Internet is the big difference," Provisor says. With data stored in the cloud, there's a future for lightweight netbooks to access that data. (Interestingly, Provisor notes that many of the developers bring in their own personal netbooks to handle other applications -- such as e-mail -- without cluttering their development machines.) "I don't think desktops are going away," Provisor says. "Our engineers need fairly intensive computing environments." But not everyone needs that kind of power all the time.

If you're thinking of taking your company green, Provisor offeres the following thoughts:

"When I decided to start Guidance Green, I wasn't sure everyone would be onboard with the idea. But I quickly realized that not only the executives were already thinking about it, but our employees were willing to help us in the process, even donating personal time and resources to expand our initiative and educate the community with our environmental message. So I would advise all executives interested in having their companies operate as environmentally aware organizations to tap into the enthusiasm of their employees to self-police energy, gas, water, and paper consumption, initiate waste-reduction campaigns, organize eco-friendly events, and promote these initiatives to the community in general. You'll increase your employees' morale and pride in their company, not only because they'll know they are working for a company that is committed to the environment, but because they are being a part of the process."

What are you waiting for?

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