‘Ask not what the planet can do for you but what you can do for the planet.’ With apologies to JF Kennedy, the IT manager would do well to heed this advice. If he does not take leadership on reducing emissions generated by IT equipment under his dominion, he will be elbowed out of the green debate before he can say TCP/IP.

Already, forward-thinking suppliers are door stepping chief executives with proposals of how an overhaul of the datacentre could make big savings - and improve their green credentials, too. “The IT department’s wallet is for day-to-day stuff, not for big projects. The high profiles of this world are going directly to the board to tell them that their datacentre is inefficient,” says Clive Longbottom, principle analyst at consultancy Quocirca.

While IT managers are being side stepped at the top, there is a pincer movement coming from grassroots levels of organisations as employees seek to ‘green’ their IT. Employees may not know the full facts: office equipment accounts for around 15% of total energy use in the UK, according to the Carbon Trust, a non-profit organisation. Intuitively though, they know that switching off monitors and printing on double-sided paper is a good thing.

Both of these lobbies are to be applauded but it is important that the IT department recognises greener computer practice is now everyone’s bag. With space for taking the initiative getting more constrained, the IT manager needs to choose campaigns with care. Submitting plans for a multi million pound, state-of-the art datacentre might not find favour at the board but putting the house in order through good housekeeping will win brownie points.

In the datacentre the most effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint is through consolidation and rationalisation, says Longbottom. As he points out, “On average, only 10% of a datacentre’s servers are used at any one time – yet they all remain switched on”. Virtualisation is an important technology for IT managers to champion as sharing servers between applications achieves higher utilisation of 80% and above.

Green to do list

As usual, nothing that happens in any business is purely a technological tweak. Businesses have to agree to share servers in the first place and that is one conversation IT needs to initiate. Another is with the facilities manager who for too long has been left to sort out all the bricks and mortar aspects of the datacentre, often oblivious of the IT equipment it houses. IT managers are going to have to get interested in fluid dynamics and cooling systems.

Meantime there are aspects of the IT operation that can be ‘greened’ and products are coming on to the market to address this. Storage is rising exponentially - Tesco probably is not untypical, growing at 30% a year – and Copan Systems is among suppliers offering solutions. It delivers ‘cooler’ storage in massive arrays of idle discs (Maid) that store persistent data – data that is infrequently accessed. Maid only spins those discs being accessed, generally 25%.

However there are plenty of wins to be gained in the IT department without making any capital outlay. Basingstoke and Deane local authority achieved a 20% cut in paper consumption and 30% fewer helpdesk calls by adopting print friendlier practices. BT calculates it will save £500,000 on its electricity bill simply by shutting down monitors every night. “It’s often the tiny things that make a huge difference”, says Donna Young, head of BT’s Climate Change Programme.

Young describes the telecommunications giant as both ‘a hero and a villain’ of climate change: BT eats up 7% of the UK’s entire energy consumption and it has the biggest car fleet in the UK. However its technology products enable home working and teleconferencing, both of which eradicates tonnes of emissions every year. Even in this it is a villain however. “ICT is part of the solution but uptake also puts a huge strain on the network, which increases emissions again”, she conceded.

BT’s IT department is making its own contribution to the Climate Change Programme with radical implementations for new style datacentres called ‘metro nodes’. These ban the use of refrigeration as cooling is responsible for upwards of 40% of total power consumption in the datacentre, explains Steve O’Donnell, head of datacentre operations. Instead, he says, BT uses fresh air to ventilate and cool the metro node.

Crucially, his team is part of a company-wide effort to reduce carbon emissions, according O’Donnell who is also BT’s IT environmental champion. The IT department encourages feedback and fresh thinking from the whole company on how it can improve IT practice. A recent poster campaign rewarded feedback on identifying unused IT equipment, and switching it off has saved £3m.

Young confirms that ‘virtual teaming’ is the answer to carbon reduction. A senior BT director from each part of the business sits on the green board and this is supplemented by volunteers, or ‘carbon busters’. All sorts of people within the organisation are genuinely concerned about the environment.

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