Greener IT means benchmarking

Trying to determine how environmentally friendly your IT practices are requires benchmarking. Robert Saxby explains why

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Green IT is about retooling business processes and the ICT environment to reduce energy consumption and tthe organisation's carbon footprint. Happily, this coincides with increasing pressure to improve operational efficiencies and reduce processing costs. -Thus, an improvement at the bottom line can also enhance a company’s green credentials – a development that is becoming both a legislative requirement and a competitive differentiator.

No longer aimed at just heavy industry, there is increasing pressure on corporates across all market sectors, and within all areas of activity, to reduce their greenhouse gases. And when it comes to technology, this is being translated into a growing list of legislative, media and industry initiatives.

At the government level, there is a growing list of mandates that include the EC’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive and the Energy Star programme from the US Environmental Protection Agency, strongly supported by IT suppliers such as Intel. This last programme was instrumental in introducing a ‘sleep mode’ to PCs and other electronics products.

Green standards at a national level include Sweden’s TCO certification programme, aimed at reducing heat levels in power usage, and restricting the use of hazardous materials. Another initiative is the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), which targets manufacturing in an effort to limit the use of products such as lead. At the same time, EPEAT mandates that IT production plants build electronics products so they run more efficiently, require less maintenance, have a longer service life for components, and offer easier recycling at the disposal stage. These initiatives share similarities and overlap, yet they also have different points of focus and can be adopted either separately, or as a total package.

Green schemes

The IT industry itself has been looking to improve its green credentials and has introduced a series of green programmes. One of these is the Green Grid, a set of standards devised by a consortium of manufacturers, including Intel, HP, AMD, IBM and Sun, to increase hardware efficiency and reduce energy consumption. The availability of this type of checklist not only makes it easier for CIOs to measure the efficiency of their IT environment but also to assess the green credentials of proposed upgrades or system replacements.

Last year, IBM launched Project Big Green, a programme aimed at promoting energy efficiency in the datacentre. Datacentres are huge power consumers, both in their processing volumes and cooling requirements, and the trend is getting worse. Where in the past a company’s power usage bill for IT might have contributed up to 10 per cent of overall operational costs, these costs are set to expand to at least 30 per cent, given the rising cost of energy. This fact alone makes initiatives such as the Green Grid vital.

Server consolidation helps reduce processing requirements and therefore power consumption. One of the most significant IT developments of recent times is virtualisation, which aims to provide similar capabilities as the traditional datacentre, with a fraction of its power consumption – not to mention reduced hardware and maintenance costs.

The drive for cost efficiencies at the desktop can bring energy savings of up to 20 per cent. This is being achieved by removing redundant workstations and applying green innovations such as software that shuts down unattended PCs – a non-trivial consideration since it reduces the annual electricity bill by £75 for each PC left running overnight.

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