Archive for April, 2007
Sunday Business Post – Property Cover Feature – April 29 2007
With prices static and in some cases falling and rents on the way up, is now a good time to consider buy-to-let? Dermot Corrigan reports.
The past year has seen continued strong growth in demand for rented property in Dublin. At the same time, the well-documented slowdown in the residential property market has meant that potential investors have a huge choice of properties open to them.
The question for these potential investors is whether there is a window of opportunity to get into the market at what could seem like bargain prices in a year a two, or whether the current uncertainty surrounding house prices means they should be more cautious. Jim Power, chief economist with Friends First, believes demand will remain strong in the rental market.
‘During the year to March, private sector rents went up by over 10 per cent. I feel that demand in the rental market will persist because of our growing population and strong inward migration,” he said.
A report released last month by property portal Daft.ie put the annual rate of growth in rents at 10.5 per cent between February 2006 and February 2007.This is the fastest growth rate since the Daft.ie index was introduced in 2002. The report found that, while rents had been increasing since the end of 2004, it was not until mid-2006 that the pace of growth grew into double digit figures.
According to Daft.ie, the nationwide average rent is now €1,334,the highest level since January 2002. A number of factors are combining to push rents up to this level – one is inward migration, which according to Power, looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.
‘‘If you are looking at 80,000 migrants coming into the country each year, they have to live somewhere,” he said.
The current uncertainty around interest rate increases and stamp duty changes is another factor impacting on the buy-to-let market, simultaneously depressing prices while increasing rental demand.
‘‘Some prospective first-time buyers are considering whether they can afford to purchase in the city centre or south Co Dublin – renting in those areas is perhaps a more affordable option for them, and that has helped to push rents up,” said Geoff Tucker, economist with Hooke & MacDonald.
According to the latest Daft.ie report released last month, the highest national jump in rents in the past year occurred in Dublin 2.The average rent for a one-bedroom home in the area increased by a staggering 24.3 per cent to an average of €1,234 per month; two-beds were up by 19.7 per cent to €1,679 per month.
‘‘We have seen rents rising in the Dublin 2 and Dublin 4 areas,” said Tucker. ‘‘A lot of developments that have been sold over the last two to three years are now coming onto the rental market. They offer a higher spec of accommodation and can command above-average rents.”
Tucker said that in the docklands, penthouse two-beds with waterfront views are renting for more than €2,000 a month. At the moment, investors can expect to pay upwards of €450,000 for new one-bedroom apartments in the docklands; tw o-beds are selling for more than €500,000 while three-beds cost from €750,000.
Another area where rents are performing well is Sandyford. The Daft.ie report found that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Dublin 18 rose by 18.8 per cent to €1,574 per month.
Dublin 18 includes Sandyford, Stepaside, Kilternan and Carrickmines. These locations benefit from proximity to major employers and good transport links, such as the Luas and M50.
‘‘Sandyford is one of those areas where the rental market is going to really thrive,” said Tucker. ‘‘There are very few residential units that have been completed there yet, although there are quite a few developments that are on the market at the moment.”
Among the schemes on the market in the area at the moment is Rockbrook, which is situated directly opposite the Stillorgan Luas stop and offers one-bed apartments from €370,000 and three-beds from €625,000.These will be ready to rent from the end of this year into spring next year.
Potential investors should be aware that the increases being seen in Dublin rents are not evenly spread across all of the city or county. Rents for one-beds in Dublin 7, for example, grew by a relatively low 4.3 per cent, while two-beds in Dublin 13 and Dublin 7, three-beds in Dublin 24 and two-beds in Dublin 11 all experienced rental growth rates of less than 7 per cent last year.
However, Tucker said that this did not mean that buy-to-let investors should only concentrate on plusher southside postcodes – for example, rents for three-beds in Dublin 15 grew by 17.2 per cent.
‘‘Ballymun is another interesting area,’’ said Tucker. ‘‘Over the last 12 to 18 months we have seen a private rental market develop there; a number of developments have been completed and the rental market has really taken off. In particular, properties situated close to the proposed Metro North line are worth looking at.”
At the moment, one-bed Section 23 apartments in Ballymun can be bought for under €300,000, while two-beds are selling for under €350,000. Tucker said that investors now make up 26 per cent of all new home purchases in the greater Dublin area.
The Daft.ie report said that rental yields had increased for almost all accommodation types in Dublin in the last 12 months. The average rental yield for properties in Dublin is between 3.4 and 4 per cent, with the highest yields for properties in south Co Dublin.
‘‘Yields at the moment seem to depend on the location, but they have shifted upwards, particularly over the last six months,” said Tucker.
‘‘This reflects the moderation in price growth we have seen, combined with a stronger growth in rents. You will probably see yields edge upwards towards the 5 per cent mark by the end of this year.”
However, Tucker said that the majority of investors did not focus closely on rental yields. ‘‘Most investors are not overly dependent on surplus rental income,” he said.
‘‘They are getting into the market with the objective of long-term capital gain.”
Rents and yields are also rising inmost locations outside of Dublin, with particularly high rates of growth in certain towns around the country.
A new report from the estate agents network, Real Estate Alliance, has found that parts of Cork city, Trim, Navan, Maynooth and Monaghan are experiencing above-average growth in rents.
‘‘Yields are pretty much up across the board,” said Healy Hynes, vice-chairman of Real Estate Alliance. ‘‘They are particularly high in locations that are experiencing higher inward migration, are close to industries or that have been earmarked for decentralisation.”
Hynes said that recent job creation in the Monaghan area had helped rents rise by between 10 and 12 per cent in the last year. The Real Estate Alliance research showed that a property in Monaghan costing €270,000 would give a monthly rental return of €800, an annual yield of 3.55 per cent.
Investors should also be aware of the impact of decentralisation projects, said Hynes. For example, Tubbercurry in Co Sligo has seen a significant increase in rental interest due to the relocation of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
A property there costing €185,000 will bring in €600 a month in rent, giving an annual yield of 3.89 per cent.
Hynes said that other locations showing significant rental yields included Longford town, Killarney, Leitrim, Nenagh and Mullingar. According to Power, investors should look to the National Development Plan to see which areas will experience continued rental demand over the medium to long term.
‘‘The plan will give a significant economic boost to particular regions around the country,” he said. ‘‘For example, the road infrastructure to the south-east is going to be improved, so Waterford should benefit. The midlands should be opened up as well.”
Tucker said recent media speculation about stamp duty changes and market crash landings had not impacted greatly on the residential investor market.
‘‘A lot of the stamp duty debate has been about reducing the rates to help owner occupiers, whereas investors are ultimately driven by their expectations of the future prospects of the market,” he said.
‘‘Experienced investors are still confident about the long-term prospects.”
Research by Hooke & MacDonald has found that 43 per cent of investors are buying residential property for pension purposes, while 20 per cent are buying as a nest egg for children.
The research also found that 73 per cent of investors plan to hold onto their properties for more than five years, and half for more than ten.
Power said that buy-to-let investors should have realistic expectations of the likely appreciation of their properties in the next few years. ‘‘I believe we are now coming into a decade of more modest capital appreciation,” he said.
‘‘Over the next five years you will be doing well to get capital appreciation of 3 per cent per year on average, compared to 11 per cent over the last decade.”
Sunday Business Post – Recruitment – April 22 2007
Companies are turning to specialist executive recruiters to fill a wider range of roles than ever before, Dermot Corrigan reports.
Hiring the best available talent to fill high-level positions is a priority for companies of all sizes across every sector. However, according to Sarah Meagher of McEvoy Associates Signium International, Irish organisations have been slow to recognise the value of niche agencies that specialise in hiring for high-level roles.
“The executive search market in Ireland is still relatively new in comparison to the UK and the US where search has been a common means of fulfilling strategic hiring requirements for many years,” said Meagher.
“Here, search is often seen as a last resort when companies have tried other means to recruit and often only for higher value or executive level roles. There are still a proportion of ‘who do you know’ direct contacts made by employers here and sometimes clients will know the person in advance they wish to hire for a particular role. This does not happen as often in other countries.”
Executive search and selection is among the fastest growing HR specialisations internationally. According to the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) the global executive search market industry experienced annual growth rates of 16.5 per cent from 1996 through 2000.
The association estimated it will grow by 12 per cent in 2007, bringing total revenue among its 350 member firms to $9.78 billion worldwide.
The US represents the largest executive search market in the world, with Britain in second place and Germany in third. Five AESC members have offices in Ireland, including Amrop, Boyden, McEvoy Associates Signium International, MERC Partners and Transearch International.
Executive search and selection is a confidential process where companies ask an agency to identify, attract and ultimately hire high calibre candidates, typically to fill strategic or specialist roles.
The agency receives a brief from its client, talks to them about what they require, uses their experience and contact network to draw up a shortlist of candidates, then confidentially approaches prospective hires. If required, the agency can also help with the interviewing and negotiating process.
Companies sometimes opt for the executive search process to gain access to candidates who are not actively on the market. Eamonn O’Reilly, joint managing director with Abrivia Recruitment Specialists, said that very senior staff are generally unlikely to regularly scan recruitment advertisements.
“The best people, in my experience, are not actively looking,” said O’Reilly. “The vast majority are probably happy enough in what they are doing, but most people would consider opportunities as they are presented.”
Companies may decide to turn to an executive search agency to fill a position for a number of other reasons. These include a lack of sufficient response to an advertisement, shortage of available talent, requirement to gain expertise in a particular area, the need for secrecy, a company experiencing significant growth, or the implementation of a new corporate objective.
Meagher said that Irish organisations turn to executive search and selection firms to ensure that their business is not harmed by a flawed recruitment process, which throws up the wrong candidate.
“There can be nothing more frustrating for a client than a bad hire,” said Meagher. “The implications of a poor hire can last years in terms of damaged morale, opportunity cost and the loss of strategic momentum.”
Sheamus Considine, partner with Amrop International Executive Search, said that as the Irish economy evolves towards a stronger knowledge base, executive search was becoming increasingly more important.
“You are looking to people, even at lower levels, to make complex decisions and be able to take in and process a lot of data,” said Considine. “As we move towards this knowledge worker, senior management of these organisations requires a more complex set of skills and experience.”
O’Reilly said that both indigenous operations, and multinational organisations based in Ireland, are now turning to executive search companies to fill a broad range of different roles.
“The search market in Ireland is maturing,” said O’Reilly. “Up to two years ago it was the preserve of chief executives and managing directors. It is now being widened to include senior managers or anybody lower down the reporting line who can provide a competitive edge to a company.”
Brian Flynn, director executive search at Fastnet Recruitment, said that executive search is particularly useful to Irish companies operating in an increasingly globalised marketplace.
“The need to identify executives with international experience and the ability to build market share is now even more pressing,” he said “Executive search may be the only realistic way to secure the right blend of skills, experience and cultural compatibility.”
Meagher said that, as growth within the Irish economy has been concentrated in particular sectors, the labour market in these areas is particularly tight. She said businesses were turning to executive search firms to fill key positions.
“We have seen companies retain us for a broader range of roles, typically unique roles with a highly specialised skill set,” said Meagher. “There is still an obvious talent shortage in Ireland in some particular growth industries and markets, for example funds, construction and bio-pharma. Increased regulation and governance in these areas has also fuelled demand for specialist directors and other key functions.”
O’Reilly said that the experience and contacts which executive search agencies build up over years working in particular sectors can be particularly useful in identifying the best candidates for a position.
“We have been focusing on the legal, accountancy, insurance and banking sectors for years,” he said. “We know the individuals out there at the various levels in those sectors, so if a client gives us a certain brief, we would know fairly quickly where those individuals would be. You need that level of contact and intelligence that can only come with years of being in a specific sector.”
The compact nature of the Irish business world means that Irish executive search agencies have to be meticulous.
“Compared to say the US or the UK, the size of the executive search market in Ireland is very small, so the need to be extremely discreet and confidential is upmost,” said O’Reilly.
Considine said that high-level executives took a careful approach to prospective moves.
“A couple of years ago around the time of the dotcom boom there was a type of domino effect across the entire management sector in Ireland,” he said.
“That more or less has stopped. What you find now with candidates is that they are more reflective on the opportunity, with more consideration given to work life balance and where the opportunity might lead to in terms of career progression. The commute is becoming a bigger factor, which is affecting our ability to attract people to the greater Dublin area in particular.”
O’Reilly said that more and more executive search agencies were looking abroad to identify potential hires.
“Given the development in technology, it is not as cumbersome as it used to be to identify and contact candidates abroad, whether in London, the Far East, Australia or America,” said O’Reilly.
The cost of an executive search is typically a percentage of the position’s annual salary. Meagher said that clients who ask an executive search agency to help find the right candidate should be aware that the task requires a thorough approach.
“The big difficulty for some companies is that search as a holistic process that can take time to deliver a successful outcome,” she said. “It is a very labour intensive process and there are no shortcuts, the ground must be covered every time and every new assignment means fresh research to be commenced from scratch.”
Considine said that search firms will typically form a close relationship with their client and investigated their business to ensure the right fit with recommended hires.
“To be successful you have to understand how that organisation works, how it makes decisions and what its strategic direction and vision are,” he said.
Flynn said that relationships between the client and an agency often developed over time.
“The expectation is that the executive search firm will assist the client in sourcing leaders and potential leaders that will fit the culture and needs of the company. That can ultimately make such a difference in driving the necessary performance,” he said.
Sunday Business Post – Overseas Property Supplement – April 15 2007
Dublin-based firm Investor First has announced a finance deal worth $80 million for a condo-hotel development in Orlando, Florida.
The first phase of the Emerald Cay project, which is due for completion in September 2009, contains 110 units on two acres, while the second comprises 90 units on 2.56 acres.
The dual hotel and residential development is centrally located within Orlando’s ‘Golden Triangle’, close to Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios.
‘‘The location would be the equivalent of Jurys in Dublin,” said James Carroll, managing director of Investor First, which sourced both the private equity and mezzanine finance to support the development.
Carroll said that most of the $10 million equity finance was coming from one source, and having that in place early allowed Investor First to then bring in additional investors.
‘‘We first brought in one lead Irish investor and subsequently a number of smaller investors came on board,” he said. ‘‘Subsidiary investors would have come in for around $500,000.”
Carroll said that although the US and, particularly, the Florida property markets had experienced some turbulence in the last few years, high potential opportunities remained for Irish investors.
‘‘In some ways a crash is not a bad thing because it brings a bit of sense into the market,” he said. ‘‘It can be easier to make money in the hard times, because there is not every idiot trying to buy the same land for ridiculous prices.”
Florida remains particularly advantageous, said Carroll.
‘‘America is like a funnel. The baby boomers are moving south.”
Carroll said that the size of the US property market meant it could ride out temporary ups and downs.
‘‘America is the biggest economy in the world. It is surprising how many Irish people seem to equate, in their own heads, a shopping centre in the equivalent of Foxrock in Bratislava with a shopping centre in the Foxrock of Chicago.
‘‘They are just not the same in terms of risk profile. America is the most sophisticated and the most competitive property market in the world, “ said Carroll.
Investor First opened an office in Charlotte, Florida, four years ago. It is partnered with Capital Sales Center, a Floridabased residential sales and marketing company, and the Landsmith Group, which is currently developing more than 700 units spread over various other Orlando projects, in the Emerald Cay development.
‘‘We have developed a relationship with number of local developers, which makes planning, development and entitlement work much easier,” said Carroll.
‘‘America is no different than anywhere else – if you do not have local knowledge to show you where the best place to buy is, and when the right time to buy is, you will take a hammering.”
Investor First recently sourced the Philadelphia Airport Business Complex, a $33 million industrial and office site, for the Irish development group Castleway Developments.
Sunday Business Post – Done Deal – April 15 2007
Irish serviced office facilities provider Glandore Business Centres has invested €30 million to purchase, renovate and furnish its newly opened Fitzwilliam Hall centre.
The centre now offers 30,000 square feet of serviced office space and conferencing facilities in Dublin’s city centre.
The landmark Georgian building, which was previously owned by Bank of Ireland, is at the entrance to Fitzwilliam Place and overlooks the Grand Canal.
The property went on the market in 2003, and the purchase was completed in May 2005.
Refurbishment work, carried out by PJ Walls, began in June 2005 and was completed in May 2006.
The €30 million outlay is comprised of €22 million for the purchase of the property and €8 million for the refurbishment.
Michael Kelly, managing director of Glandore Business Centres, said the building was a perfect fit with its requirements.
‘‘It has a quality location, almost on Stephen’s Green,” Kelly said. ‘‘It is also a high quality building and the layout suited our purpose.”
The Fitzwilliam Hall centre offers serviced and virtual office space which includes mail and messaging handling, reception services and office support.
Costs such as property rates, essential services and insurance are covered within the monthly charge.
The building is now 90 per cent occupied and has the capacity for up to 250 work stations.
‘‘Our service is particularly attractive to small or medium-sized companies, as they can share services rather than having to provide them themselves,” Kelly said.
‘‘For example, they can hire a meeting room for an hour as opposed to having a meeting room sitting there except for two meetings a month.”
Kelly said the investment included a €1 million spend on IT systems.
‘‘We have Cat 6 cabling, a state of the art data centre and internal IT support and internet connectivity at whatever level you want,” he said.
Glandore Business Centres was founded by Kelly in 2001.
Turnover for 2006 was about €4 million. The company employs 17 staff and also operates facilities at 33 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2 and Arthur House in Belfast.
Kelly said a fourth property, in the Dublin area, was currently under consideration.
Sunday Business Post – Media & Marketing – April 8 2007
Eamon Dunphy, George Hook and Tom Dunne have all answered the call of the networks and are starring in television shows produced specially for mobile phones, writes Dermot Corrigan
Irish mobile phone networks are now offering a variety of original TV content that users can watch on the latest mobile handsets. However, opinions differ across the sector as to how the dedicated ‘made-for-mobile’ content space will develop.
O2, Vodafone and 3 have all produced and broadcasted dedicated mobile TV content for their users in the recent past. Most of these shows are fronted by well known personalities, and they generally feature entertainment or sports content.
David Riley, Head of Entertainment with 3 in Ireland, said: “We see a gap in the marketplace particuarly for compelling personality-driven TV content, Football and music are two of the strongest content areas.”
3′s dedicated mobile TV programming includes music show The Hive with Today FM presenter Tom Dunne and Eamon Dunphy’s Last Word on Football. The Hive is a fortnightly music magazine-style show, featuring live performances and interviews from Irish and international bands, gig guides, album reviews, and a download music chart.
Dunphy’s Last Word on Football is a twice-weekly programme where the controversial pundit gives his characteristically forthright views and predictions on English Premiership developments and the other football news of the day. It is filmed on Thursdays and a preview is available for download on Fridays. The actual 15-minute TV show comes out on Monday, when it is streamed.
O2’s TV mobile specific TV programming continues the sporting theme. Rod O’Callaghan, Head of Entertainment Services with O2 Ireland, said the company launched The Snug with George Hook and Brent Pope in the run up to the Six Nations rugby championship. This was a pre and post-match analysis programme for rugby fans available on I-Mode handsets and also on O2.ie.
“We also offered Brian O’Driscoll’s Six Nations diary which was available on I-Mode and O2.ie exclusively,” said O’Callaghan.
Vodafone is not as confident about the potential success of made for mobile TV content in the Irish market. When they launched their 3G service in November, 2004, it included a free-to-view TV show called Access Music TV with Dave Fanning.
This was a 15 minute package of highlights from Fanning’s back catalogue of music television programming, with the RTE DJ providing a linking voiceover.
“We tried it and it worked very well initially for us,” said Sarah Chapman, Head of Content Services with Vodafone Ireland. “But when we added access to music TV channels such as The Box we found that customers prefer the usability and variety of programming that was available within that mobile TV offering, so we did not continue with the service.”
Chapman said that Vodafone have no plans at present to produce any more original content for distribution over their mobile network.
“We try and play to our core strengths,” she said. “We have found mobile TV customers want a large channel line-up, and partnering with somebody like Sky makes the overall customer proposition the best it can be.”
Vodafone’s mobile TV packages include the Sky News & Sports Pack, Sky Entertainment Pack and Sky Music packs, as well as Premiership football highlights. O2 and 3 also provide a variety of existing television programming, which is adapted in-house for viewing on a mobile phone screen, including news, sport, weather and comedy shows. Meteor do not currently offer any made for mobile or existing TV content.
O’Callaghan said that O2 were observing the market closely to see if customers prefer made for mobile content over conventional TV programmes.
“We believe there is scope for both original and existing TV content,” he said. “We are currently conducting a mobile TV trial in the greater Dublin area. This is broadcast TV on mobile, as you would see it on TV at home. 350 customers are trialling it at the moment on the Nokia N92. We will be in a position to compare the results at the end of this trial.”
The networks declined to give out specific information on the download numbers of their made for mobile TV offerings, however both 3 and O2 said they were happy with the take-up from users.
“Usage figures are commercially sensitive however the demand we have seen so far for these services is extremely encouraging and it continues to grow as customers become more familiar with these services,” said O’Callaghan.
Riley said that more than half of 3′s Irish customers watch TV content on their mobiles.
Both O2 and 3 are happy to press on and continue to commission and offer made for mobile TV programming.
“We have seen a significant increase in the uptake of these services and this has been encouraging,” said O’Callaghan. “As technology evolves more applications will become available. We will continue to explore the area of content and will assess further opportunities as they arise.”
“3 is looking at a number of different opportunities at the moment,” said Riley. “I think the entertainment space on mobiles is going to develop greatly. TV made for mobile is a strong success story.”
At present most mobile TV in Ireland is viewed 3G handsets (3, O2 and Vodafone) or I-Mode enabled handsets (O2). Last September ComReg awarded special licenses to O2 and 3 to broadcast television over a competing technology to 3G called Digital Video Broadcasting over Handhelds (DVB-H).
Made for mobile TV content is generally offered at no extra charge to both bill pay and pre-pay subscribers. Users can be asked to pay for existing content. For example a weekly subscription to Vodafone’s Sky News Channel costs €1.99, while watching a Little Britain or Fr Ted clip on a 3 mobile costs 49c.
The mobile providers typically use small independent production houses to produce their made for mobile TV content.
For example the Dunphy football and Hook rugby shows are produced by Random Thoughts Media, a Dublin based digital media company. Ballywire Media and Videos On The Net are two other independents who provide televisual content for O2.
Sunday Business Post – Computers in Business – April 01 2007
Technology vendors are promoting machines which are friendly to the environment but which can also save money, writes Dermot Corrigan.
Energy efficiency is the phrase on everybody’s lips today. On a global scale, there are sweeping climate change announcements, while here the Irish government has introduced the ‘Power of One’ initiative to try and persuade Irish consumers to use less energy by doing simple things such as turning off the lights when you leave the room or only using the dishwasher when it is full.
Big technology vendors are aware of the way the wind is blowing and have introduced a number of new energy efficient servers and PCs. These vendors are also aware that, while Irish businesses might care about the environment in theory, they are generally more worried about their bottom-lines.
Hence the introduction in recent years onto the market of products which ensure that purchasing decisions can be both environmentally conscious and economically shrewd. The latest energy efficient servers and desktops consume less energy and also cost less money.
“The economic reasons for adapting energy efficient technology now far outweigh the environmental reasons,” said Brian Kavanagh, Primergy product manager with Fujitsu Siemens Computers. “The economic barrier that was there in the past has been taken away, where if I wanted a green PC well I was going to have to pay a premium. Now the costs involved are actually reduced because a green PC is more efficient than a normal PC.”
Richard Barrington, head of public policy for Sun Microsystems in Britain, said that businesses which purchase energy efficient technologies generally fall into three camps.
“Some people think of their corporate reputation and are interested in energy efficiency in terms of climate change, these are your BTs or Skys of this world,” he said. “A much much bigger group of people are buying energy efficient because energy is costing more and more and people are looking at their bottom line and saying we want to do more with less. Then there are third group of people, including a lot of our big corporate customers, who are running out of space, or cannot get enough power into their data centre.”
There are a number of factors which have fallen into place to tilt the balance in favour of energy efficient solutions. The first is that global energy prices have risen sharply.
“What has driven this over the last few years is utility expenses have shot up worldwide,” said Eddie English, of Dell. “Probably in the last three to four years on average energy costs have gone up by about 20 to 25 per cent. A lot of people have arrived at a situation where they have to do something because their energy costs are too high.”
Meanwhile, the IT equipment used by organisations has become much more powerful and requires a lot more energy to run.
“As electricity costs are increasing, power consumption on modern machines is increasing as well,” said Mike Hughes, Windows client manager with Microsoft Ireland. “A PC today needs four or five times as much power as a PC would have a few years ago.”
A third reason which has lead Irish businesses towards energy efficient solutions is that they are now using a lot more physical IT infrastructure than in the past. Organisations using data centres, especially, have seen their requirements shoot up.
“Storage requirements are growing phenomenally, up to 50 per cent per year,” said Gavin Jones, business development executive, energy & utilities industry with IBM.
The combination of all these factors has placed energy efficiency clearly on the agenda of anyone charged with making IT purchasing decisions in Irish organisations. It also means that managers should consider the ‘total cost of purchase’ of a piece of IT equipment, rather than just looking at the sticker price upfront.
“Businesses should look the costs down the line,” said Kavanagh. “If you are saving €100 on a PC up front it could be costing you a lot more over five years. I think Irish customers are starting to see that they should not always just go for the cheapest upfront.”
The server and data centre space is where the highest energy costs are generally found. Consequently this is where the greatest savings can be made by introducing energy efficient technology, and manufacturers and vendors have targeted energy efficiency as a major marketing point for their products.
One metric that server manufactuers are keen to showcase is the ‘performance per watt’.
“In the energy efficient servers we are talking about a 25 per cent improvement in terms of performance per watt,” said Dell’s English. “A regular server is probably running round about 320 or 330 watts. An energy efficient server, with specifically configured processor and memory, will run at around 260. Not alone does it use less power, but it also performs the transaction so much faster.”
English said that this translates into significant cost savings.
“It depends on the cost of utility bills in your country, but in general what we are seeing is about $200 or $220 savings per server, per year. That is fairly considerable when you take into account that a large data centre could have a couple of hundred, if not a couple of thousand servers. You are talking real tangible benefits.”
Energy efficiency savings are not confined to organisations with large data centres. Savings can also be made in organisations which are running PCs and laptops.
“Vendors are looking to differentiate themselves in these markets, and it is an advantage if they can say they are greener than others,” said Hughes. “For example there are the Energy Star ratings. If your PC is energy star compliant you have to meet certain power usage levels. If your machine is energy compliant that can save you €50 a year.”
The rising energy costs focused minds within R&D at the major IT manufacturers to develop technology which used less power. Sun Microsystems’ latest servers use ‘CoolThreads technology’, which Barrington said cuts power consumption by 30 per cent.
Barrington said that this did not mean working harder, it meant working smarter. One intelligent deployment of existing power usages is to ensure that processors used their time more efficiently.
“Basically a computer processor does one thing, and then it waits either for another command from the user or for the memory to return information,” he said. “So what we have done is build a computer that every time that processor finishes a job and it is waiting for something else, it starts another job. It can actually do 32 things at once.”
“Because of that we have been able to increase the clock speed, make the computer go faster and faster, without using more energy and producing more heat. These processors use about half of the energy of traditional processors.”
Dell has introduced their ‘Energy Smart’ technology into both desktop PCs and PowerEdge servers. Hughes said that the new servers can deliver up to 25 per cent greater performance per watt, while reducing power consumption by 20 per cent, compared to industry standards.
Another advantage of energy efficient solutions is that they can play a role in keeping replacement and repair costs down.
“The hotter things are the more inclined they are to break down,” said Kavanagh. “If you reduce the temperature by ten per cent you can double the lifetime of the mechanical components within a server, which reduces the total cost of ownership of that box.”
Other significant costs for organisations which require a large amount of IT machinery are air conditioning and cooling systems. Dell estimate that 40 per cent of the total power usage in a data centre goes into chillers and air conditioning units.
“Not everyone understands that one of the bigger expenses in a data centre is running your air conditioning units,” said English. “A server that is consuming less power is going to be generating less heat, so you can crank down your air conditioning and chilling units and save you a lot of money.”
A number of the big server manufacturers have introduced tools which allow customers to see how much energy they might save with intelligent technology purchases.
Sun have developed the ‘SWaP’ (Space, Wattage and Performance) metric. This assesses the efficiency and effectiveness of rack optimised server deployments in a data centre.
Potential customers can use the Sun website to perform the calculation (SWaP = performance / (space x power)) and compare results from different systems offered by each vendor they are considering.
The Dell website features a similar gizmo that allows interested individuals to see how much they can save by harnessing the energy efficiencies of Dell products including laptops, servers and other data centre technologies.
Consolidation and virtualisation also play a key part in adding to an organisation’s IT efficiencies. By consolidating all their IT requirements onto fewer, more efficient servers, businesses can make substantial savings.
“Consolidation and virtualisation play an absolutely massive role in conserving energy,” said English. “We have seen some serious advances in hardware over the last year. Some customers have been able to go from a ratio of five or six to one. I myself have seen instances where folks have been able to go from ten machines down to one.”
“Other things to look at are things like power supply, which historically has been horrendously inefficient,” said English. “In our latest servers we have the efficiency rating up to 90 per cent.”
English also said that scalability is another area where organisations can make big energy efficiency inroads.
“Historically if you bought a mainframe you bought it with a lot of upgrade space so your business could grow into it,” he said. “Dell is trying to allow folks to buy what they need for now, and then you can add on scalable blocks as they are required.”
The nature of energy efficiency savings mean that everyone from the largest enterprise to the smallest operation can benefit from efficient technologies.
“Almost any business can benefit from energy efficient technology because even if you have a small business you are still talking about the bottom line costs of running each machine,” said Barrington.
Hughes said that one reason why larger organisations turn to energy efficient technology is that individual staff do not always do as much as they can to help keep utility bills down.
“If you are a consumer, you are responsible for your electricity bills, so you are probably more aware of turning your machine off or not leaving the machine running,” he said. “In your own house your automatic reaction is to switch it off. Small businesses are probably more aware of their energy costs as well, but if you go up into larger organisations somebody else is paying the electricity bill, so you do not automatically think about saving energy.”
Organisations which are concerned about energy efficiency can also turn to software solutions.
Hughes said that the recently released Microsoft Windows Vista operating system features the ability to ensure that unoccupied machines are not left powered up.
“The most important thing from the power consumption perspective is the ability to make the machines sleep,” he said. “If you take a laptop running Windows XP, when you put it to sleep it maybe took one or two minutes to come back to power again. From a usability point of view that is a poor experience, so people will just leave it running. Vista can effectively put your PC or laptop to sleep in about two seconds and bring it back to resume in about two seconds as well.
Hughes added that Vista can allow IT managers to se power settings for individual machines.
“If you want individual machines to power off after five minutes of no-one touching the keyboard, you can set that up and apply it right across the organisation,” he said. “Or you can blank the screen if no-one is using the machine.”
The operating system can also adjust the energy usage of each individual machine so that only the required amount of power is used.
“Hardware and processor manufacturers have built in more intelligent processors, so depending on what the PC is doing at the time they can build up or down the power which the processor itself is consuming,” said Hughes. “So the operating system can work with the processor, depending on what the user is doing.”
Hughes said that optimum utilisation of these features could lead to considerable savings on each typical desktop system.
“There was a study done by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the US which said there were savings of €48 per machine per year if you use all these policies together,” he said.
Some businesses specifically ask staff not to power down their machines at night, for instance so that they do not miss out on important updates, such anti-virus software upgrades.
“Larger organisations may have policies where they put patches on their machines, and they may encourage staff to actually not switch their machine off,” said Hughes.
“This is where automatic software settings become more and more important, because you are effectively taking the user out of the equation.”
The ‘green’ motivation for purchasing one product over another cannot be discounted completely. All of the major IT vendors have reacted to their customers’ requirements by introducing environmentally friendly practices.
Energy efficient technologies now sit alongside other responsible practices such as multi-pack solutions which save on packaging materials and supplying less manuals and user instructions with bulk orders.
“It is up to the customer, but in the majority of times they will go for it, as there is no additional cost associated with a service like that,” said Kavanagh.
Kavanagh added that other environmentally friendly policies of the large IT manufacturers include reducing the use of dangerous chemicals in machine manufacture, increasing the ease of recycling equipment, cutting the fuel consumed by delivery vehicles and using environmentally friendly packaging material.
Jones said that energy efficient purchasing decisions can be publicised by businesses to impress their customers.
“Companies want to be seen as being custodians of the environment,” he said. “Also employees like working for companies that are environmentally conscious, so it helps keep good people who want to make a difference.”
Sunday Business Post – Property Section – April 1 2007
Located at the Obidos lagoon, Quintas de Obidos is a country club development north of Lisbon on Portugal’s Silver Coast, which is on the market with prices starting from €600,000 for 1.3 acre plots and from €1.4 million for finished five-bedroom villas.
The development, which is aimed at the higher level of the market, has its own helipad, a country club with spa and swimming pools, and has an equestrian centre designed by leading Irish show jumper Jessica Kurten.
Prices for complete properties at Quintas de Obidos, which include the land, five-bedroom villa, outdoor pool and all landscaping, range from €1.4 million to €1.8 million.
The scheme comprises 79 five-bedroom villas, each standing on at least an acre of eco-friendly gardens with olive trees and biological lakes.
Buyers can choose from one of 16 traditional Portuguese architectural designs. Eight of the 79 plots have already been purchased by Portuguese and international investors.
Quintas de Obidos is a five-minute walk from the beaches and estuary of the Obidos lagoon.
The ancient walled town of Obidos, with its distinctive white houses trimmed with touches of blue and ochre, dates back beyond the 13th century.
Portugal’s Silver Coast region, Costa da Prata, is situated 40 minutes north of Lisbon airport, and stretches from Torres Vedras to Caldas da Rainha.
A new motorway from Lisbon has improved access to the region, which will soon be home to two five-star hotels.
According to the developer, Silver Coast property prices are about 30 per cent lower than equivalent properties in the Algarve, and the area had seen property price appreciation of about 40 per cent in the last three years.
The fully-equipped equestrian centre is expected to draw strong interest to Quintas de Obidos.Kurten, who is a high-profile showjumper, is heavily involved with the project as an ambassador and consultant.
Keeping a horse at livery here will cost about half the equivalent rate in Ireland, and Kurten plans to bring other professionals to Quintas de Obidos for training and schooling.
Golf is also expected to be a major attraction for the development, which is surrounded by the Praia d’El Rey and Bom Successo golf courses.
The Praia d’El Rey is rated the number one course in Portugal by Golf World magazine.
The Estoril, Quinta daMarinha/ Oitavos and Penha Longa courses are also within a 45 minute drive of Obidos.