Thin clients and open source the green IT winners

With pre-election campaigning in full swing, both political parties are keen to showcase their green credentials. And with the high level of political sensitivity surrounding green IT, Gartner believes its CIOs that need to take a leadership role in this area and demonstrate a degree of corporate responsibility.

Gartner estimates that IT contributes two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and predicts by 2010, environment-related issues will be among the top five IT management concerns for more than 50 per cent of state and local government organizations in Australia, North America and Europe.

As a result, Green IT will be a key focus of Gartner’s annual symposium, to be held at the Darling Harbor Convention Center in Sydney from November 20-23, 2007.

Symposium research vice president for the public sector, Richard Harris, said although green IT is an important theme for many industries, government organizations will be more exposed and expected to play key roles in regulating and supervising the environmental impact of IT.

“Whichever party wins the next federal election, it will have to make a stronger commitment to tackling environmental change and this will affect all areas of the business community including CIOs,” Harris said adding that green IT will lead to new investments as well as changes in the way that IT spending is assessed and managed.

“Many would think that green IT is a private sector issue but we firmly believe that government will feel a greater impact. “Government finds itself in the position of being both a polluter and regulator of pollution with pressures coming from political, regulatory and economic corners. Just as businesses in many industries are increasingly using environmental pro-activeness as a marketing tool, governments can also earn political capital by appearing environment-conscious.”

According to Gartner, the IT industry is right at the center of climate change debate, both as a culprit and a possible savior.

Harris said it is in the unique position of being able to improve its own credentials as well as being able to help other industries tackle environmental challenges.

“Although IT clearly contributes to energy consumption and pollution, it also offers ways to reduce environmental impact,” he said.

Harris said government at all levels are already investigating and engaging in IT-intensive projects that aim to reduce air and water pollution.

“Australia in particular is a sophisticated IT market, where CIOs are already under considerable pressure to demonstrate sustainability – they are looking to vendors who can provide the products and services to help meet these demands,” he added. Possible solutions range from looking at alternative energy sources to teleworking and waste management. Cost pressures also play a role. “The move towards greater consolidation and the use of shared services in government is already happening as a consequence of cost pressures,” Harris said.

“Centralized data centers and networks are likely to be better managed from an environmental impact perspective by leveraging virtualization, better utilization and capacity management.

“Consolidation of IT procurement will also ease the selection of vendors that meet green IT requirements and better manage equipment disposal in compliance with relevant regulations.”

Gartner also believes that the case for open source will be strengthened as government organizations look to use less powerful machines and that the objective of reducing energy consumption and procuring devices with a lower environmental impact will encourage the use of thin client architectures.

Increasingly, environmental impact, energy consumption and compliance with green IT policies will become significant decision making criteria for IT investment and in geographies and governments where green issues are top concerns; new models will emerge to evaluate, demonstrate and communicate the environmental value of IT. Local governments with a direct responsibility for environment, waste management, land and buildings and local transportation will, to begin with, be the most widely affected by the need to apply IT to cope with environmental problems.

Harris said that immediate action is necessary at every level in the IT organization.

“Government CIOs must consider different areas of potential impact on IT spending and assess their readiness, in terms of the ability to communicate internally and externally what is being done and why,” he said.

“By the same token, government CTOs and operations managers must start looking at how green IT requirements can affect infrastructure and architectures.

“Finally, business-unit managers as well as portfolio managers must prepare to articulate and prioritize the ‘environmental value of IT, and factor this into decision making.” In fact, Australian enterprises are the largest consumers of electricity used for computing but still lag behind when it comes to environmental leadership, according to new research released last week by Springboard Research.

Despite its large carbon footprint, Australia’s ICT sector has a tendency to interpret Green IT initiatives as just another cost and process to endure.

Large enterprises in Australia comprise the largest consumers of electricity used for computing at 41 percent, followed by IT users at 32 percent and small to medium enterprises at 28 percent.

Springboard Research vice president, Bob Hayward, said computing devices have a significantly large and unrecognized carbon footprint. For example, an average sized server has the same carbon footprint as a mid-sized 4WD taking 17 litres of fuel to travel 100km.

“As companies become more accurate in determining what percentage of energy costs are allocated to the IT department, you will see cost savings will be the key driver of green IT investments,” he said.

Springboard estimates that over A$837 million (US$731 million) per year is spent on powering computers in Australia with the overwhelming majority of this spend wasted on systems that are in idle mode.