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Shades of Green – Next Steps for Eco-Friendly IT



By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.

It is likely that 2007 will be remembered as the year of “green” computing, with vendors performing both as solo vocalists and as members of disciplined chorales. Group efforts such as The Green Grid, Climate Savers Computing Initiative, and Blade.org stood out from the crowd, but what has been most remarkable about the evolution of ecologically friendly computing is the growing number and variety of available products. From miniscule embedded processors to sophisticated datacenter cooling products to massively scalable virtualized server and storage consolidations, these efforts reflect the systemic nature of broader ecological issues that do not lend themselves to “silver bullet” solutions. 

This may frustrate those intent on trumpeting one organization or another’s greener-than-thou credentials, but it is a critical point for businesses hoping to maximize their green IT investments. Along this line, we would like to consider how companies can benefit both from the purchase of “top down” solutions designed green from inception to deployment and “bottom up” strategies that aim to leverage existing IT assets in the most ecologically intelligent way. 

The automotive industry offers an interesting analogy to consider here. Whether you are an ecologically concerned consumer or just looking to improve your mileage, you can consider alternative vehicles, including new hybrid cars like Toyota’s Prius, high-mileage conventional fuel options such as Volkswagen’s diesel-based Jetta, or emerging alternatives like the swanky all-electric Tesla sports car. Along with providing better fuel efficiency, such vehicles also leverage innovative, ecologically friendly, energy-efficient commercial technologies. 

IT solutions can offer similar benefits. New x86 servers from Dell, HP, IBM, and Sun utilize the latest/greatest Intel and AMD processors to good effect, as well as other energy friendly features and add-ons. The same can be said for enterprise class UNIX systems from IBM, Sun, HP and others, which have all profited from next-generation CPUs and other component upgrades during 2007, as well as IBM’s System i and System z platforms. Green IT also extends well beyond servers, as EMC has demonstrated with its well-designed and executed strategy around energy-efficient storage solutions and services. 

But do you need to buy new to get green? Not necessarily. So far as automobiles go, you can significantly improve gas mileage with effective, time-honored techniques, such as making sure your car is well-tuned and your tires are properly inflated. If you want to turn a deeper verdant shade, why not just drive at the speed limit? According to the Department of Energy (DOE), slowing down from 65 mph to 55 mph can increase miles per gallon by as much as 15 percent. In addition, the DOE says each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph equates to paying an additional $0.21 per gallon for gas (at $3.00 per gallon – if you can find it). Not green enough? Why not ditch your car entirely, ride a bike, use a skateboard, or just take public transportation whenever possible? 

While your mileage may vary, taking a common sense systemic approach to IT can also deliver notable energy benefits. For example, numerous consultants we have spoken with report that they find easily fixable cooling issues in virtually every datacenter they inspect, with problems ranging from mistakenly set thermostats to working systems being inadvertently turned off. Bigger problems obviously require more sophisticated solutions. For example, server and network virtualization solutions from market leaders like VMware holds particular resonance among green IT fans and with good reason since they allows companies to maximize server utilization while reducing their total number of servers and the amount of energy they consume. 

Considering the breathtaking growth in most companies’ information assets, consolidating existing storage assets via workable Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) strategies and data de-duplication solutions can also help organizations get the biggest bang out of their IT investment bucks. Some add-on technologies are well worth considering if datacenter greening is on your mind. For example, ensuring the efficiency of cooling systems should be high on any business IT users list, particularly those who depend on high-density infrastructures populated with blade servers. High efficiency air conditioning systems such as those offered by APCC and other vendors may be just what Dr. Green ordered, but liquidcooled heat exchanger solutions (like IBM’s Cool Blue) prove that literal bolt-on energy innovation is alive and well. 

Finally, a discussion of green technologies would not be complete without mentioning the efforts of interested parties outside the IT industry. Just as many states run programs that aim to get gross polluting vehicles off the road, government agencies and power utilities offer numerous incentives designed to encourage businesses to upgrade out of date equipment and improve datacenter energy efficiency. One example: California’s Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has been at the forefront of such efforts in the Golden State, certifying numerous IT solutions for its rebate/incentive program and working with vendors to approve other servers, storage, and networking solutions. Another: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced a collaboration agreement with the Green Grid. 

The lesson we see in all this is that there are as many ways for IT customers to become ecologically astute as there are shades of green. Eco-friendly technologies play a role in a growing host of new IT solution, and we applaud vendors for moving so aggressively in these areas. In addition, most are actively pursuing green initiatives in areas including manufacturing, transportation, supply chain processes, and product recycling, and we expect such efforts to continue and expand. We also believe that there will be opportunities for IT vendors to provide green products, services, and guidance well-beyond the desktop and datacenter. We will be interested to see how the IT community responds to Google’s announcement this week of its plans to support research exploring renewable energy production. Considering the vast R&D resources that help drive the IT industry’s singular innovations, we expect other vendors to launch broader energy research efforts, as well. 

At the same time, IT users would do well to understand that newer shades of green are not the only colors available to them. These organizations, like sensible consumers everywhere, should realize that using existing computing assets wisely can deliver benefits that rival many new solutions, and that approaching technology challenges systemically is the surest way to achieve lasting results. In the end, the essential purpose of green IT is not to outfit datacenters in the trendiest available products but to follow mindful, sustainable computing practices. This is a critical and worthy goal to pursue at a time when resources of every sort are increasingly under siege.


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