Geeks Go Green: Info Technology and Energy

August 1, 2007

Data demands energy - whether for in-house systems, information storage, or the backbone of the Internet. In April 2007, the Gartner Group estimated "The global information and communications technology industry accounts for approximately 2% of global CO2 emissions" (release).

Across the globe and in almost everyone's backyard many information technology (IT) companies and managers are growing more conscious of the energy consumption of their servers, data centers, PCs, and other techno-tools. "Green IT" has become a popular buzzword. How is this trend influencing businesses and services in your region? What are the environmental and economic effects?

The main strategies of Green IT are:

  • Energy-efficient devices (such as servers and routers) and facilities (such as data center buildings)
  • Managing electric loads to minimize demand during times of peak utility demand (sometimes involving on-site power generation, renewable energy purchases, or storage)
  • Minimizing waste, toxicity, and pollution, and maximizing recycling in the life cycle of electronic equipment.

While Green IT can apply to small organizations, the biggest potential environmental and financial impacts (and probably the best stories) are at mid-sized or larger organizations.

Check with CIOs or IT managers at local technology, financial services, insurance, banking, healthcare, and other data-intensive businesses - as well as government agencies and major institutions such as universities. Are they doing, or planning to do, green IT? What's their plan? What are the expected costs, benefits, pitfalls, and tradeoffs? Do they face financial or business constraints that prevent them from doing more with green IT? Are they finding adequate green IT product and service options available at a reasonable cost?

Check also with local data center companies ("server farms") which lease capacity to client organizations. RackSpace, a major provider of managed hosting services, recently debuted its GreenSpace program which involves investing in renewable energy and helping its customers improve energy efficiency (release). Press: Annalie Drusch, 800-961-2888.

Check also with local utilities. Do they offer any incentives, guidance, or other programs for green IT? For instance, Pacific Gas and Electric offers $1,000 rebates for buying efficient Sun Microsystems servers that generate less heat.

Many people at big companies are talking about green IT - but are they taking action? On May 10, 2007, IBM announced Project Big Green.The company will spend $1 billion per year to increase energy-efficiency in corporate data centers. The plan includes new products and services for IBM and its clients. According to IBM, "For an average 25,000-square-foot data center, clients should be able to achieve 42 percent energy savings. Based on the energy mix in the US, this savings equates to 7,439 tons of carbon emissions saved per year... . The initiative includes a new global 'green team' of more than 850 energy-efficiency architects."

IBM may be exceptional in the industry. That same day, CNET reported that a survey by Forrester Research showed that 85% of 124 IT procurement officers thought environmental matters are important. However, "Despite the availability of products... that consume less power, only 25% of the IT managers surveyed said they had formalized green criteria in their processes." The Green IT measures that do get done are driven primarily by expected cost savings, rather than environmental considerations. Forrester Research: "Tapping Buyers' Growing Interest In Green IT;" Christopher Mines, 866-367-7378.

The energy cost issues are nothing to sneeze at, however. According to a Sept. 2006 report by the research firm IDC, today every dollar spent on computer hardware in data centers entails about 50 cents spent on energy. This estimate includes the short lifespan of computer technology, and is expected to increase by 54 percent (to 71 cents) over the next four years.

In February 2007, several major IT vendors formed the Green Grid coalition, which focuses on improving energy-efficiency in data centers around the globe: 512-372-6520. Press: Cheri Winterberg or Jenny Bragg, 206-322-1167.

The Green Electronics Council can offer information on manufacturing, life-cycle, and recycling/disposal of IT equipment. It offers EPEAT, "an environmental procurement tool designed to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebook computers and monitors based on their environmental attributes." Contact: Jeff Omelchuck, 503-279-9383.

Product availability may be a concern. On July 18, 2007, InfoWorld reported: "Many users are finding it difficult to adopt a technology that is not characterized by a wide selection of physical products that they can buy and implement in their IT infrastructures today. In the absence of a mature green IT market, users such as PMI Mortgage Insurance and Cooper Communities are cobbling together green strategies that are saving them money without negatively impacting IT performance."

Across the pond, Kablenet reports: "The UK's first end-user environmental IT board has commissioned a report on green IT issues. Called 'The Inefficient Truth,' the report will be produced by environmental charity Global Action Plan (email, 020 7405 5633). Its scope will be defined over the next three to four weeks and it is expected to be launched in the House of Commons at the end of September or early October."

The weblog of green IT consultant Deborah Grove is a good way to keep up on events and trends in this field. ComputerWeekly reporter Chris Saran also blogs on this topic.

More green IT background from Energy Priorities.

IDC analyst Shawn McCarthy recently wrote about the special energy challenges that federal government data centers face.

And on the micro-scale, any web user can cut their power consumption a bit by using Blackle - a version of the Google search engine with a black background. The energy-saving potential of this option has been fiercely debated on Treehugger.

Energy-saving technology to watch: OLED displays.

Next thing you know, they'll be starting organic server farms.

Appended August 13, 2007:
Storage technology professional Clark Hodge recently wrote about his skepticism about Green IT, which he sees as mainly a marketing ploy.