How do you define "Green IT?" Sure, data center energy savings are a huge opportunity. Data centers consume more energy per square foot than any other part of an office building. But they're part of an information and services supply chain that begins with raw materials and ends with the disposal of waste. The chain includes people, the space they occupy, and the cars they drive. Along the way, the chain increasingly gobbles energy and spews greenhouse gases.
The IT department is in a unique position to change that. This is the first in a three-part series on IT's role in solving energy and environmental problems.
Start with the data center
Energy consumption in the data center is predominantly from two loads: servers and cooling. Increasing server density compounds the problem. A Gartner poll showed that more than 69 percent of data centers are constrained for power, cooling and space.
Energy-efficient servers are available from the major vendors, most notably Sun's CoolThreads technology that Sun says makes servers more efficient by a factor of five. Efficient processors from IBM, AMD and Intel are making their way into the mainstream, so your favorite server will soon be available in green.
The payoff of efficient servers is twofold. Servers that consume less energy also throw off less heat, requiring less energy for cooling. Alternative approaches, including ice storage and geothermal energy, accept the heat and focus directly on reducing the cost of cooling the data center.
Reducing cooling loads gets the attention of utilities because their summer peak demand periods are caused by air conditioning. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), one of the largest natural gas and electric utilities in the United States serving 350,000 California businesses, is offering $1,000 rebates for buying efficient servers that generate less heat.
Utilities also offer incentive programs for virtualization, which reduces the number of physical servers required. Virtualization is not new, but vendors are repositioning it now that energy costs are of concern: "IBM sees virtualization combined with power efficiency as a key differentiator in our systems design” says Rich Lechner, vice president of virtualization at IBM.
Desktop PC energy use is manageable, too
Outside the data center, PC workstations make a sizeable contribution to US companies' power bills. It's not the 100 watts they consume, it's the sheer number of them out there. The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance concluded that the average consumption could be shaved by about 25 percent through effective use of power management tools.
The state of the art in this niche is driven primarily by the demand for a set-it-and-forget-it solution. Workers don't want power management to intrude on their day, and IT doesn't want complaints to intrude on theirs. The result is network-based power management software.
Would centralized sleep control be beneficial to your network? A good way to find out is to install Verdiem's Surveyor demo without turning it on. Then use the "prediction" function to calculate the potential savings of each profile. Users will be unaffected and unaware of the test, and you'll have a good idea of the effectiveness in your situation.
To go a step farther, consider deploying thin client workstations. Thin clients didn't catch on when pitched as a way to reduce hardware and maintenance costs, but rising energy costs have added an effective selling point. Thin clients use about half the electricity of a typical desktop PC.
Convergence: enabling mobility inside and outside the building
Voice over IP brought together voice and data communications for some significant benefits. This step in convergence reduced the telephony wiring infrastructure and ongoing operation cost. VoIP and phone extension mobility also made practical a concept introduced in the early 1990s: hotelling of office space.
Hotelling reduces the square footage required per employee, because workers reserve space only when they need it. For many jobs -- sales, consulting, field service -- a dedicated office need not sit vacant, consuming energy for lighting and cooling.
Telecommuting is a companion concept that is gaining favor, not only for space reductions, but because suddenly companies are thinking about the emissions caused by the commuters they employ. Telephony technologies have made it practical to operate whole departments outside the building. Call centers at companies like JetBlue hire at-home agents whose physical absence from the building is practically indiscernible to customers.
Zealous adopters of these concepts have reported a 40 percent reduction in space requirements by leveraging their communications infrastructures. They also get to claim emission reductions due to fewer commutes.
IT enables other ideas that save energy and reduce emissions. Teleconferencing -- and its newest iteration, telepresence -- have cut down demonstrably on business travel. Electronic documents and processes reduce paper and the accompanying costs of copiers, printers and couriers.
Beyond these familiar ideas lies a huge opportunity scarcely tapped by IT: the building itself.
by Denis Du Bois