IT and Climate Change: Computing for the Environment
The typical CPU/monitor combination sends 1,000 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere every year and 15 such systems generate as much carbon emissions as a mid-size car each year.
In total, desktops, laptops, printer and all other IT equipment account for 9 percent of all energy consumed by businesses and that figure just balloons for IT firms. Green IT is the key to improve operating margins by reducing expenditure on energy. It need not be restricted to just efficient IT systems, it also extends to IT systems used to improve existing processes, software to design efficient buildings and much more.
VMware’s Green Calculator says that a regular dual CPU server would cost $807 in terms of energy costs annually. Compound that figure for the many hundreds of servers that could be virtualized and the potential savings run into millions.
According to US Department of Energy estimates, “In 2006, electricity consumed by servers in US data centers (including cooling and auxiliary infrastructure) represented about 1.5 percent of national electricity use . . . for a total electricity cost of about $4.5 billion.” This figure is growing at a rate of 12 percent annually.
The BBMG Conscious Consumer Report for 2009 says that the vast majority of Americans not only expect business leaders and marketers to provide environmentally conscious products, but they’re adamant that those “green-friendly” claims are backed up with legitimate practices. Any business that adds “green value” to their products and does a good job of projecting it can almost hear the Green umpire call “Advantage!”
The differentiation that the “green” tag brings along is definitely worth the effort and the investment. However, there is no generic “green IT” implementation available and any such implementation would have to be a carefully planned and executed activity. Many organizations that have servers nearing end of life would do well to think their procurement strategy through.
Conception is the Key
Conceiving the need for an IT solution that reduces an enterprise’s ecological footprint either by reducing the energy demands or by optimizing existing processes and infrastructure is a key part of the journey. Opportunities to implement green IT solutions might look unrealistic but sustained research and thorough investigation will be able wingmen.
The lack of an off-the-shelf green IT solution should not become a spanner in the works. Most green IT solutions are customized to achieve maximum efficiency and it would very hard to classify solutions under one bucket or the other. This makes the job of conceiving the need for a green IT solution all the more difficult.
Before an enterprise can start optimizing, it needs to know what to optimize. In-house facilities teams would easily be able to provide data on energy consumption across various facets that are under examination. Certain data center power and cooling solution providers have also started offering management tools that would give a better insight into power consumption. Once energy figures have been baselined, paths to reduce them can be explored. Once the destination is known, the journey is easier – except for the thorns.
You Don’t Have to Think Outside the Box
In the early days, a green IT solution was not necessarily the first thing organizations would think of. An organization going through a transformational period would perhaps be more inclined to implement green IT strategies. This is no longer the case.
The need to be perceived as being in sync with the cause of the environment has led many organizations to plan their IT upgrades along these lines. I use the word “perceived” because in reality, everyone knows that green IT brings enormous savings in operational expenditure and in fact organizations that are undecided about green IT should look at it from a cost-oriented business perspective.
Virtualization is just one of many green IT strategies. The new generation of smart computing devices offers companies the ability to take up micro-level power management. Switches, routers and computing devices can be designed to operate on a low-power and low throughput mode during times of low demand. Think of it being similar to intelligent car engines, which can switch off one or more cylinders while cruising down the highway.
IT can also be easily used to sensitize employees to the perils of climate change. A pop-up just before end of day advising employees to hibernate their systems and turn off monitors can also go a long way in reducing the over carbon footprint.
So what are the quantitative benefits of green IT solutions? To cite an example from VMware’s Green Calculator, virtualizing 300 dual CPU servers would save you more than $198,000 annually.
Assuming that the hardware lasts three years, the enterprise would have saved itself more than half a million dollars in energy costs alone. Other intangible benefits include freeing up of costly real-estate being occupied by multiple non-virtualized servers. All the goodwill accruing to a company perceived as green is an added bonus.
Rahul Krishnan is a Senior Systems Engineer at Infosys Technologies Ltd. in Bangalore.
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