Green Computing

by on 10/01/2010

This article looks at green computing, focusing on the lifecycle of IT equipment, how existing technology can be used in an environmentally sound way, and what new technologies exist that provide an environmental benefit. A green policy is increasingly a requirement for all companies. However, this article takes a pragmatic view with most, if not all, of the recommendations given saving money or improving performance as well as reducing carbon emission.

FITM provides independent and flexible outsourced IT Director services and can assist in the planning and implementation of a green computing policy.

Introduction

If we are to achieve the carbon emission reductions the world’s scientists believe are necessary, and have been agreed in the Kyoto protocol, then all organisations need to become more energy efficient and use lower carbon products and services.

A green computing or green IT policy is a socially responsible thing for all companies to have and is increasingly a necessity for ensuring regulatory compliance. Staff and potential customers are asking for copies of the green policy more and more frequently. The surprise for many people is that green IT policies frequently pay for themselves in the very short term.

It is important to note that green computing is only a part of a company’s overall green policy and subjects such as international travel, company cars, home working etc. are equally important.

IT Lifecycle

Green computing informs every stage in the lifecycle of IT equipment, from manufacturer’s design through to company’s disposal.

Design and Manufacturing

IT equipment manufacturers are increasingly seeing environmental criteria as key to their design and manufacturing processes. The design of energy-efficient and environmentally sound components, computers, servers, cooling equipment etc. and the manufacture of these with minimal impact on the environment is seen as both socially responsible and a selling point.

Purchase

If you read the details of any IT product, manufacturers will now include details of the environmental manufacture of their products. So, equipment should include details about:

  • Materials used in the manufacturing process, especially restricted materials
  • Energy efficiency and consumption
  • Cooling requirements
  • Extension of product life, for example by upgrading
  • Recycling / disposal (particularly the WEEE Directive)
  • Legal and regulatory requirements met

For computers and laptops, the Energy Star specification (version 5.0 went into effect on 1 July 2009) ensures that equipment has highly efficient power supplies and has power management features which allow the computer to enter a very low power mode when not in use for a specified period of time.

These factors should be considered when selecting and purchasing new equipment, not least because they may well save money. For example, the energy consumption and cooling requirements of a piece of equipment directly affect the total cost of ownership.

Disposal

It is important to consider whether it is possible to extend the use of equipment, for example by upgrading components. Modern equipment is built to facilitate upgrades and it will frequently be cheaper and more environmentally friendly to do this rather than buy a replacement.

The next option is to recycle equipment for use by another company. Only after these two options have been eliminated should disposal be considered.

Many companies and charities now exist that will take care of reuse or disposal of equipment, erasing old data, refurbishing equipment if necessary and ensuring that all legal and environmental legislation is being adhered to. Depending on the company you use and the age and condition of your equipment, you may well even get paid.

Using Technology

Desktop

The common IT elements of everyone’s desktop are the computer, monitor and printer. The key with each of these is to put them into standby mode or turn them off completely when they are not in use – companies should institute a policy that employees turn their computers, monitors and printers off when they leave the office.

Computers with Energy Star standard mentioned previously have power management features enabling monitors and computers to be placed in a low-power sleep mode after a set period of inactivity. This has very little effect on your users as a touch of the mouse or keyboard wakes the computer and monitor in seconds. The Energy Star features can be turned on manually or there are automated ways, some of which are free, to turn them on for all users. It is estimated that this can save as much as $75 (nearly £50) per computer per year.

Modern printers have standby modes that can be set to come on automatically at certain times of day and days of the week. Also, ensure that all users have double sided printing (duplex) and black and white set as the default. Printers with cartridges for each individual colour enable you to replace only the colour that has run out. And of course recycle your old cartridges. These actions will save significant proportions of printer cost and environmental effect.

Server Room

One key factor in designing a server room is to consider the cooling needs. Cooling equipment needs to be designed for computers rather than humans, there needs to be redundancy, and humidity is as important as temperature. It isn’t necessary to excessively cool your server room – a temperature of 21 or 22 Celsius is just fine.

However, the design of an environmentally friendly server room is a specialist subject and so is best left to experts.

New Technology

New technology is increasingly available to SMEs which assists in the reduction of power consumption as well as offering cost savings and other business benefits. We focus here on just one of these technologies, virtualisation, which FITM considers the most important. Other new technologies such as cloud computing and thin clients are available which allow both business and environmental benefit, but these are arguably not as mature.

Virtualisation

It is estimated that 65% of an average server’s power is used doing nothing. Server virtualisation makes use of this spare power by running several “virtual servers” on one physical server. The average ratio of server consolidation is 7 to 1. This saves money on power and air conditioning costs, which clearly has an environmental benefit. It also saves cost on hardware and on software licences and it helps to eliminate single points of failure: if one server blows up, the virtual servers that it was running are simply launched on a different physical server, with little or no delay.

There are several other types of virtualisation (desktop, storage, network and hardware), and depending on the technical solution chosen, this can be a simple or a complex project. FITM believes that the right place to start is with a simple server virtualisation project that will improve the resilience of a company’s IT systems and pay for itself in the short term. Other types of virtualisation and server virtualisation complexity can be added in the future if required and justified.

FITM believes that server virtualisation should be a core to every company’s green computing policy. With a short payback period, all SMEs should be planning to start a server virtualisation project in 2010. However, this is a specialist technical area, and it is important to plan an appropriate strategy in order to gain value quickly while having the structure in place for long term growth.

Can FITM Help?

FITM provides consultancy to help you select, justify and manage technological projects. FITM’s has partners who provide specialist technical knowledge to assist with specific projects if required. Contact FITM to discuss your green computing strategy and projects.

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