Solution or problem? ICT’s Green credentials

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This article appeared in the 15th October, 2007 issue of CRN magazine.

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Solution or problem? ICT’s Green credentials
HOW GREEN IS OUR USE OF ICT? It’s a good question that many may not even be able to guess at, so with enquiring minds the Australian Computer Society (ACS) recently undertook the first audit of carbon emissions generated by Australian business use of ICT.

In this first foray into environmental policy, the ACS didn’t look at recycling issues or consumer use of technology. Instead it tried to get an estimate of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by business use only.
There’s been a growing acknowledgment of the increasing amount of power used by computers both in the data centre and on the desk. In the year 2000 an average server consumed around 100W of power, today that figure is closer to 400W.

For a long time low-power was only of interest to notebook users. Increasingly, though, power consumption is acknowledged as a significant cost in the server room in terms of the power bill and the emissions created by power generation. It is more of an issue for larger companies that spend a small fortune cooling an ever increasing density of heat generating blade servers and various forms of network equipment.

First printer cartridges, then redundant hardware and now power have all been highlighted as negative impacts of information technology on the environment and as consumers, employees, share markets, the board of directors and governments demand more environmental sensitivity from the IT department, small and medium-sized businesses need to find ways to reduce waste, recycle redundant equipment and reduce their carbon footprint.

Gerard Florian, chief technology officer for corporate solutions provider, Dimension Data acknowledges that an increasing number of large organisations now expect their supply chain to have social responsibility credentials. It has become very much “part of the licence to operate”, he says and describes how Green credentials “may not get you over the line in a tender situation, but the tender documents will ask for environmental credentials and you won’t be short-listed unless you are able to demonstrate an environmental policy”.

Florian said he expects Green demand will grow over the next two years as the ASX influences the board, the board pushes the chief information officer (CIO) and firms increasingly appoint people into roles such as director of social responsibility.

Fortunately, he says, the environmental awareness push dovetails easily with the issues today’s CIO is already working toward – reducing cost and complexity. Technologies entering the mainstream now offer workable solutions. Virtualisation and consolidation help reduce carbon footprints by powering less servers, while collaboration tools and zero-touch desktop management can help reduce travel, he points out.

A company’s carbon footprint will likely be the first measured by government if and when a carbon trading scheme is implemented in Australia. To this end, the ACS audit of ICT emissions is an important first step for the industry as it puts forward a model to estimate the total carbon emissions attributable to business use of desktops, servers, network equipment, even telephone equipment.

The audit revealed that in 2005 business ICT generated 7.94 million tonnes of 1.52% of Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions. When you consider that the figure is on a par with the CO2 emissions from civil aviation, which is often criticised for its polluting power, you put the figure in a little more perspective.

Responding to the findings, the ACS came up with some suggestions the industry can put in place to help reduce its carbon emissions. Some you may never have considered, like IP Telephony. The ACS points that not only can IP telephony promote teleworking to reduce commuting, the use of integrated VoIP in a virtualised environment could avoid the use of separate power-consuming PABX systems.

Cutting four hours of workstation/monitor usage per day represents a reduction of approximately 0.37t CO2 emissions per annum per desktop. Server virtualisation and consolidation is another energy saver. Each server removed represents a reduction of approximately 3.35t CO2 emissions per annum, according to ACS figures. Virtualising the desktop, with a thin client device could also add to the savings. The ACS estimates that a thin client running to the maximum desktop functionality utilising all peripheral ports consumes up to 15 times less power than a conventional desktop.

Finally, the ACS advocates the extension of an energy star rating system to ICT products.

Though it hasn’t tackled waste and recycling yet, the ACS also acknowledged the need for the industry to become more accountable for its waste and has established a Green ICT Special Interest Group.

Buying Green
There are increasingly more off-the-shelf solutions resellers and their clients can take advantage of. Due for release later this year, Lenovo has just announced the ThinkCentre A61e and ultra small form factor desktop with an energy rating that exceeds the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star 4.0 criteria.

The desktop is Lenovo's smallest, quietest and most energy-efficient desktop yet and is the first with to be awarded gold status by the Green Electronics Council EPEAT.

It's not only 50 percent more power efficient than a normal desktop, Lenovo also builds it out of 'up to' 90 percent reusable/recyclable materials, as well as 90 percent recyclable packaging. It can also be powered by an optional solar panel. According to Lenovo, running the A61e with its 85 percent efficient power supply for a year would save the equivalent CO2 emissions as two round trip flights from Boston to New York.

Eco Expansion
Another vendor to embrace a greener outlook is IBM. The vendor recently announced Project Big Green, which involves a redirection of $1billion a year across its businesses to increase energy efficiency.
IBM is also building an $86million green data centre expansion at its existing Boulder location in Colorado, US.

High density computing systems will be installed featuring virtualisation technology, as well as IBM's Cool Blue portfolio of energy efficient power and cooling technologies. Combined with an energy efficient design and construction, the centre will reduce its overall carbon footprint compared to standard data centres. Following the expansion it will be the largest IBM data centre in the world and will consolidate nearly 4,000 computer servers in six locations worldwide onto about 30 refrigerator-sized mainframes running the Linux operating system.
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