Get serious about green: David Suzuki

TORONTO – Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki thinks the technology sector has yet to come to grips with the amount of waste it produces.

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Suzuki acknowledges the important role that technology plays in spreading his message of greener living to the masses, but, he said, “IT has also has been a real problem in terms of cyber-junk and all the stuff that’s out there.”

Customers purchasing products are continually tempted to upgrade to the next bigger and better iteration that is just around the corner, said Suzuki. “When you start looking at the turnover because of Moore’s Law, there’s always a better one … and you’re lusting for more,” he said.

Suzuki spoke to an audience at the Earth Friendly IT Event, hosted by Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Corp., a storage provider that offers green technologies for data centres.

Humans use a lot of technology to live, work and play, so there must be attention given to that heavy ecological footprint and the planet’s rapidly dwindling natural resources, Suzuki told the crowd. But the problem is, he continued, that “growth has become the definition of progress.”


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HDS green data centre expert and vice-president Asim Zaheer admitted that the company does have a large carbon footprint with its range of products, which includes data storage and bullet trains. But Zaheer said that, eventually, “our goal is to have 100 per cent of our products as eco products.”

Half the power consumption in the data centre is actually from IT equipment, said Zaheer, but customers running data centres can cut this consumption by reducing redundant data, physical resources and hotspots, and by increasing disk utilization.

And while the advent of cheaper and denser storage means space continues to get filled, it only results in a greater hunger for even more space, said Claus Mikkelsen, chief scientist with HDS. “This creates a major problem because our data centres are going to grow and grow and grow,” Mikkelsen told the audience.

There is no near-term solution for replacing power-consumptive data centre hardware, but virtualization and dynamic provisioning are ways to improve utilization rates and reduce further server sprawl, he noted.

In an interview with ComputerWorld Canada, Suzuki said the day that businesses are finally made to pay a tax on carbon emissions, the IT sector will have no choice but to respond with green technologies. The massive amount of heat produced by data centres, he said, “represents money that you’ve spend for the electricity that’s created that heat.”

But Suzuki acknowledged that going green in private sector companies is only possible if it demonstrates a positive impact on the bottom line. “As long as we’re playing within the bailiwick of the corporation, they’ve got certain rules … and that is what’s determining everything,” said Suzuki.

What must change is that everything we do should bear its true “cradle-to-grave” price that reflects the usage of natural resources. If the price of using the planet as a garbage can is included in disposable batteries, Suzuki said the price would soar.

“But then people say, ‘Well, a battery might cost a $100.’ Well, yes, if you’re going to throw them away, that’s what it should be,” he said.

To businesses that must build data centres to support services they offer, Suzuki said going green will improve the bottom line. That said, there still must be an overhaul of the system in which businesses toil, he added.

Mikkelsen told ComputerWorld Canada he’s observed a trend in the last couple of years in which new kinds of roles are showing up in negotiations when building a data centre. Aside from the addition of chief financial officers who care about the cost, he said, data centre infrastructure people who build these facilities want to be in on discussions as well.

“They are showing up to meetings more and more because they want to make sure they don’t run out of power, they don’t run out floor space, they’ve got sufficient air conditioning involved,” said Mikkelsen.

Data centre technology vendors have no choice but to offer green products given the proliferation of data and the limited energy and space with which to house it, said Zaheer. “The amount of data in the ether is doubling every 18 months … so what do you do? You’ve got to cram it all into the same space,” he said.

While Suzuki thinks it’s great that businesses are going green, those efforts are barely scratching the surface. “I’m glad people are being green, but it’s not serious. It’s not serious because we haven’t dealt with the deep underlying root causes, which is we’ve got way too much stuff and it’s way too cheap,” said Suzuki.