Environmentally Sustainable IT Definition and Solutions

Environmentally Sustainable IT topics covering definition, objectives, systems and solutions.

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How can I cut my energy bills?

There are two ways that IT managers can help to reduce their companies' energy consumption: run data centers more efficiently and manage desktops more efficiently.

How can I make my data center more efficient?

An August 2007 EPA report on data center efficiency concluded that unless U.S. companies change the way they design, build and operate data centers, annual data center electricity costs could reach $7.4 billion in 2011. That means your costs are headed up, too.

The first step for IT managers who want to cut data center energy costs is to get to know their data centers in detail. A good place to start is with a True Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) assessment, which accounts for the cost of building and owning a data center facility, along with the usual hardware purchase and maintenance costs that go along with operating it. (The term True TCO was coined by The Uptime Institute, an IT research organization, which provides a tool for modeling it.)

It's also a good idea to get to know your facilities managers. According to Jonathan Koomey, a staff scientist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the facilities department usually pays the power bills, and therefore, IT generally is unaware of how much energy it consumes running servers and air conditioners. "Traditional IT metrics like response time and uptime are what they are measured on, not energy efficiency," says Mines. But without an understanding of the data center's energy consumption, IT managers have no starting point for improving energy efficiency. "Without an integrated budget for these things, you will end up spending much more than you need to," says Koomey.

Some improvements don't cost much money. For example, says Mines, you can remove obstructions to airflow, such as blocked cabling, piping or air-conditioning ducts.

Before you invest in new servers, examine whether changing the layout of your equipment can help you use air conditioning more efficiently. Thermal mapping tools (sold by vendors including IBM and HP) can help you pinpoint hot and cold spots by how densely your equipment is populated and the flow of hot and cold air through the space. Traditional energy-efficiency assessment services are also offered by vendors such as EYP Mission Critical, Syska Hennessy and APC.

Once you have the data, you may decide to implement in-row, on-rack cooling systems, which allow you to bring cold air just to hot spots, or to rearrange server aisles so that air conditioning is aimed at hot aisles. Sealing gaps on server rack cabinets with blanking panels and placing ventilated tiles away from equipment exhaust areas also helps maximize air-conditioning efficiency.

Finally, there's your hardware. By reducing the number of boxes you operate through virtualization or server consolidation, you'll use less power. And turning off servers you aren't using can cut power consumption by between 10 percent and 30 percent, says Ken Brill, executive director of The Uptime Institute. A large company can save as much as $250 million, Brill says, by improving airflow, maximizing air conditioning and optimizing servers.

Next time you upgrade your servers, you can look for more energy-efficient models, although currently, there are no standard benchmarks for comparing energy efficiency between products by different vendors.

The EPA is working with vendors to develop new energy-efficiency specifications for enterprise servers by 2008.

Meanwhile, says Lawrence Berkley's Koomey, vendors have been improving server efficiency through more efficient chips and power supplies. Someone purchasing many servers could go to the manufacturer and ask it to provide a power supply that is well above 80 percent efficient, Koomey suggests. "It doesn't matter what the processor is; if the power supply is more efficient, you are going to save energy," he says. Koomey adds that it's cost-effective to spend extra money on a more efficient power supply because it now costs more to run the data center than it does to purchase the equipment.

How can I reduce my electricity consumption on the desktop?

If you want to know what your PCs are made of before you buy, you can use the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) developed by the Zero Waste Alliance to evaluate your purchases. Products that meet EPEAT's voluntary standards have smaller levels of mercury, cadmium and lead, are more energy efficient, and are easier to refresh and recycle.

The EPA recently recognized six organizations for their use of EPEAT, including the city of San Jose, Kaiser Permanente, the California Integrated Waste Management Board, the California Department of General Services, healthcare services and IT provider McKesson, and the city of Phoenix. Together, these organizations have saved more than $5 million buying greener equipment.

PCs and laptops that meet EPEAT standards also carry the EPA's Energy Star 4.0 label. Such computers use half the electricity of other computers and automatically go into sleep mode after a period of inactivity (they use 75 percent less energy in sleep mode). Energy Star certification also requires that equipment use more energy-efficient internal and external power supplies. If you purchased an Energy Star-labeled computer on or after July 20, 2007 (the date the newest requirements took effect), your machine complies with the new standards.

According to the EPA, if all businesses were to purchase only Energy Star-certified equipment, they would save $1.2 billion over the life of the computers.

You can also deploy PC power management tools. Vendors like Verdiem and 1E offer products that you can use to customize en masse when PCs shut down or enter sleep mode. "In call centers or universities, or anyplace that has many desktops running, PC management products are no-brainers that pay themselves back quickly," says John Davies, vice president of green technology research with AMR Research. Verdiem estimates that its Surveyor product saves $15 to $40 in energy costs per PC per year.

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