Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why must IT go green?

Green IT is not about compliance or coercion. It is about efficiency, says Stewart Baines. And that should make it more sustainable than any kowtowing to corporate social responsibility.

IT has been on an unsustainable path for years. Gigantic centralised data centres cannot get sufficient juice from the electricity network; millions of computers burn up processor power performing background processes while their users are in the pub; forests of emails, memos and presentations are needlessly printed off and never read.

If these factors alone are not reason enough to sign up to green IT, there are countless more. Many UK and EU regulations and campaigns demand greener businesses: the ethical disposal of equipment under the WEEE directive, transparency on companies' carbon footprint, and ultimately a cap-and-trade system for carbon credits set to be introduced in 2010.

Staff are increasingly green aware and want to see their company contributing to the solution, rather than exacerbating the problem.

"People like to work for companies they can be proud of, so being seen as a socially responsible organisation is certainly a factor in attracting and retaining top talent," says Alec Bruce, eco-solutions champion, Hitachi Data Systems UK.

"We hear from CIOs who have green IT programmes, that their staff gain a sense of empowerment from a green IT project."
The office, which has not felt the pinch on supply, also has energy issues.

Many small suppliers must comply with their large customers' own green policies. And investors are demanding to know more about long-term plans to transform their investment into a beacon for green excellence.

And perhaps most of all, energy is no longer like water - nor for that matter is water. Retail gas prices increased by 25 per cent in 2006 and volatility in the Middle East from the proposed sanctions on Iran and the conflict on the Turkish-Iraq border have helped nudge oil close to $100 a barrel.

A carbon levy on utility bills in the UK adds further to the rise in fuel costs. The long term trend for oil, gas, electricity and petrol costs is up, up, up.

Energy no longer trivial
The impact on IT is that the energy a computer consumes is no longer trivial. In the data centre, where supply rather than price is the issue, energy has mattered for some time.

"The National Grid is reaching breaking point. The electricity company EDF has warned it is no longer able to increase supply to data centres and requires formal notification of any plans to expand or create new centres," says David Elwen, a director of IT consultancy DMW Group.

Elwen continues: "There is a clear need to reduce the electricity requirement, which in turn will cut electricity bills."

The office, which has not felt the pinch on supply, also has energy issues. IBM estimates that IT is responsible for as much as 40 per cent of an office's entire electricity use. How much of this can be saved by turning PCs off at night and ensuring devices are not left in standby when not in use? The average office can be just as inefficient and power-hungry as a creaking 20th century server farm.

The industry in the past has measured its progress by faster processors, bigger hard drives and ever smarter smart phones, oblivious to their energy consumption. Now the vendor community has the green bug: everything, from desktop PCs to mobile base stations, professes to be green.

This is undoubtedly a good thing, and vendors should be applauded for tackling the energy thirstiness without ramping up prices. If energy-efficient PCs are the same price as inefficient machines, it is a no-brainer.

The rising energy costs compared with the general downward trend of hardware would suggest that organisations should shorten the refresh cycle. Last year, analyst house IDC reported for every dollar spent on IT hardware, 50 cents are spent on powering them: in three years, energy will account for 75 per cent. When factoring in cooling as well, power costs exceed purchase costs.

"CFOs are really focusing on operating costs," says Tony Rooke, UK environmental programme manager for services firm LogicaCMG. "They are prepared to invest in capital expenditure if it brings those operating expenditure costs down. The energy prices have gone up so much they will consider accelerating refresh rates if it gives them a better performance."

Green computer does not compute
However, there is a problem with directly equating the need to reduce energy costs and energy consumption with green IT, which, according to some, may not exist.

"There is no such thing as green IT. The equipment can't be green. It's the way that you use it," says Chris Gabriel, head of solutions at systems integrator Logicalis.

"You may think you are buying a green server but if you manage it inefficiently, it's not as green as my old server that's properly optimised. If I bought the greenest fridge and stick an organic lemon in it for five years, it's not efficient," adds Gabriel.

Colm Feighoney, a green IT consultant with IBM Global Services, says there are some simple things organisations could do with the standard operating environment that could really help.

"Pretty screen savers may only consume a few watts, but if you have 100,000 desktops, replacing them with a blank screen could give you million pounds a year savings from reduced energy use," says Feighoney.

Many IT managers are becoming cynical about green labelling with promises that each new server will reduce energy bills. Every vendor message these days screams that its hardware, peripherals, network equipment and even software is green.

But they are not inherently green if they are used inappropriately. If a PC is left on overnight, can you blame Dell? If a server is only 50 per cent optimised can you blame Sun?

Old equipment may consume more energy than newer versions, but a rip and replace campaign will not necessarily deliver the carbon reduction targets that government, shareholders, employees and the earth demands. This is because although each device may be more efficient, we're also asking it to do more and in many cases with the same inefficient processes as before.

"Obviously green IT needs to focus on efficiency; or rather efficient computing delivers green benefits. Being green is a return on being more efficient," adds Logicalis' Gabriel.

Kate Craig-Wood, managing director of web hosting company Memset, says being environmentally responsible generally means being more energy efficient, which directly benefits the bottom line.

"The increased awareness of green issues is simply accelerating improvements in efficiency that any responsible CIO should have been implementing in the near future anyway," says Craig-Wood.
Src: http://management.silicon.com


Kate Craig-Wood said...

Nice article, but then I would say that since I was being quoted!

I'm going to post up more detailed look at lifecycle energy costs for PCs when I've squeezed a few more numbers from suppliers, so keep an eye on my blog:

Kate's comment

In the mean time, it is also well worth looking at Intellect's High Tech : Low Carbon report, which covers a range of areas including the lifecycle energy costs of devices:

High tech - Low carbon