Can IT ‘Go Green’?
Unfortunately, IT is frequently associated with an ‘un-green’ stigma, but despite this there are a large number of players within the industry making significant environmental efforts. With Gartner# revealing that green IT is one of its top ten strategic technologies for 2010, and Forrester# identifying that well over half (59%) of companies now include ‘green’ within their IT purchasing criteria, it is clear that the momentum is in the right direction.
Organisations such as the Green Grid are also moving our industry forward. In the UK, the process of improving energy efficiency has now become essential for large businesses as a consequence of the CRC (Carbon Reduction Commitment) Energy Efficiency Scheme. The scheme has proven a significant prompt for many organisations to reconsider their approach to energy management, and by association, their green credentials. While the intentions are in many ways right, there is however a downside to the story. The legislation is likely to become a huge financial drain on companies and to increase their financial risk if not managed correctly.
The CRC requires organisations to speculate on their future energy requirements, and to buy carbon credits. These are skills which may not sit naturally in many organisations, and as a result of this complex system, it has been estimated that the CRC will increase organisations’ energy costs by 5-15%. Furthermore, companies that fail to register their energy use by next month will be hit with fines that could reach £45,000, while those that do not participate in the CRC initiative by declaring their energy use will face charges for every ton of greenhouse gas they produce. It is expected that these payments will average £38,000 a year for mid-sized firms, and could reach £100,000 for larger organisations1. The goal of the scheme is, of course, to create a financial incentive to cut energy use. It remains controversial however, that those that record the biggest reductions will get bonuses, funded by penalties imposed on those with the worst record.
The challenge of CRC is compounded by the fact that the CRC goalposts are likely to shift in the next five years – creating the risk that organisations could invest heavily in monitoring and energy management technology which will not fully meet their needs within just a few years.
Aside from the damage to specific organisations, this ambiguity could prove disruptive to the UK economy as the CRC may encourage organisations to move their operations overseas. This would be a tremendous setback, as the UK provides a superb location for businesses within Europe, and also serves as an ideal setting for a data centre. (As for environmental progress within the industry, the UK could also be seen as failing at the first, national attempt to effectively improve the country’s carbon footprint.
Moving in the Right Direction
Elsewhere in the industry, however, the signs are there that organisations are thinking and acting green. There is an increasing awareness that cost reduction and green IT sit neatly together. This is being seen in the adoption of a number of technologies and standards. One of the most interesting developments we’ve seen across the industry has been that of power usage effectiveness (PUE). The Green Grid has created PUE as a metric to determine the energy efficiency of a data centre. PUE refers to the mechanical load in relation to the IT load, and is calculated by dividing the amount of power used in a data centre by the power used to actually run the computer infrastructure within it. In essence, PUE reveals how effectively data centres use the power which is supplied to them, and efficiency improves as the ratio moves closer towards ‘1’. The link between a reduction in energy consumed and the diminishing operational expense of a data centre is direct. PUE can help organisations better understand this.
Through the creation of a benchmark by which companies can monitor their progress in energy efficiency, the Green Grid has set a new standard for environmental awareness. PUE has consequently been adopted by a number of organisations and legislative programmes as their standard metric of choice for reporting and measuring data centre efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy in the US the European Code of Conduct and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) have all introduced the metric into green IT initiatives. At Digital Realty Trust, we recognised the significance of PUE early on and were one of the first to adopt the metric and make our customers aware of it. Just recently we announced the launch of PowerVU, the industry’s first packaged solution for centralised monitoring and management of data centre power consumption, energy efficiency and load analysis. There is a need to be cautious however, that the use of PUE remains focussed on internal benchmarking, and does not become a “mine is better than yours” competition between companies. In any case, it’s worth bearing in mind that the infrastructures and business models of most companies are probably incomparable.
Making Green Work
Data centres are a key area of energy consumption, and yet some exceptional developments are taking place there. The energy requirements originating with air conditioning units are being reduced through the introduction of ‘variable frequency drives’, which only spin when they are required to lower the temperature, as opposed to regular cooling systems which spin continually. ‘Air-side economisation’, which uses outside air to chill water used in cooling systems, is another technology proving invaluable in cutting the power needed to safely run a facility. Technology is just one part of the story however, and there is a need to ensure that change occurs in an organisation’s wider culture. The best way to take big steps forward in ‘green IT’ is therefore to create a solution that fits the way an organisation actually works.
Companies today need to be thinking about how they can put their greenest foot forward, and IT will play a vital role in this. Corporate social responsibility, ballooning energy costs, and the expansion of legislation are defining a new shape for our industry. Consequently, green IT will be strategically critical in 2010 and beyond. One of the most significant considerations for organisations in the UK is undoubtedly the Carbon Reduction Commitment or CRC, which poses a considerable challenge for the IT industry and for individual companies. The imposition of fines on organisations may break down the positive correlation between being green and cost reduction and in so doing could jeopardise much of the positive progress that has been made in recent years. When responding to the CRC, or in their efforts to meet wider green ambitions, companies need to ensure that they maintain this critical relationship between environmental and economic responsibility
Tags: Green Tech