How Green is my IT?

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Concern over power consumption is driving enterprises to alter their computing practices, according to a Canadian analyst.

Anything that affects the bottom line is a matter of concern and that’s certainly true of power consumption by IT resources, said George Bulat, director of data driven products at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

Companies, he said, are devising various strategies to deal with the issue.

For instance, Bulat said, an increasing number of companies are turning to server-based computing and virtualization to save energy. He said by shifting power consumption from the office to the machine room, these computing models they lower the cost of managing IT services, and cut overall energy bills.

The IDC analyst also sees a noticeable shift towards blade-type servers, which further reduces power consumption. “Blade servers and virtualization reduce the number of physical machines that consume energy.”

Server and thin-client computing has become an increasingly popular strategy to cut down power consumption, and with reason.

Personal computers account for two-thirds of the energy consumption in a typical office, while they waste as much as 20 per cent of the power they consume, according to Butler Group Ltd., a U.K.-based analyst house.

The Carbon Trust, a non-profit organization funded by the British government, has determined that office equipment accounts for roughly 15 per cent of energy use. This figure is expected to rise to 30 per cent by the year 2020, if businesses do not act, said the Carbon Trust.

An estimated 38 million PCs in England consume seven terawatt hours (7,000 gigawatts hours) of electricity, according to figures released by Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry. To put that number in perspective, the city of Luxembourg’s electricity consumption in 2005 was around six terawatt hours.

An office block holding 1,250 employees is likely to use more than 2.5 gigawatt hours of power annually at an approximate cost of $289,693.

With the rising cost of power, any reduction in energy use makes good business sense, according to Richard Edwards, senior research analyst with the Butler Group. “Green IT is becoming a hot topic on an increasing number of executive agendas.”

An obvious starting point for energy conservation, Edwards said, is to make sure PCs and other devices are turned off when not in use.

Edwards’ views are echoed by at least one energy expert in Canada.

Simple power-conservation techniques can save company with 10,000 computers at least $250,000 each year in electricity costs, according to David Rogers, a technology and project management specialist with BC Hydro.

He notes that the province of British Columbia can save as much as $30 million in electricity costs each year if businesses and home users turn of their computers when not in use.

According to Butler Group, offices in Britain waste an estimated $325 million by leaving computer monitors and lights on at night.

“Contrary to popular opinion, screen savers do not save energy,” said Edwards. The UK-based analyst also explained that turning off PCs do not result in hard drive crashes, as new computers are designed to power cycle up to 40,000 times during their life span.

That’s equivalent to 30 re-boots a day over a four year period, he said.

The increasing demand for workplace mobilization, Bulat said, has created the need for laptop computers that are more energy efficient than desktop units.

Edwards said a PC and monitor combo typically uses $250 worth of energy during its four-year lifespan. A laptop PC will consume 50 to 80 per cent less power.

Aside from energy conservation, companies also have to consider proper disposal of tech waste when implementing a green IT strategy.

“Used computers, monitors and other equipment are laden with hazardous materials , but recent data indicates that only 10 per cent of companies actually pay to have their PCs properly disposed of,” said Bulat.

He said about one-fifth of companies dispose their computers “just as they would thrash.”

The equipment ends up as toxic waste in landfills or is shipped to developing countries where they are cannibalized for parts and metals by people working in unhealthy conditions.

Bulat said several computer makers with Canadian offices have launched projects to recycle products.

Provinces such as Alberta and Ontario have programs that charge manufacturers a tax for the disposal of their used products, he said.

Some companies say complying with programs to reduce hazardous materials in their products can add up to 10 per cent in production costs

While this may be so, Bulat said this is cost manufacturers need to incur to be environmentally responsible.

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