Read an Excerpt
THE BASICS OF GREEN COMPUTING
Green technologies is a term that some business leaders believe espouses
a back-to-nature philosophy and denounces all industry. However,
the reality is much more positive than that. Green Technologies is the reduced
environmental impact from running an Information Technology
(IT) department. Green is just another term for the efficient use of technologies.
(In this case, we are referring primarily to electronic equipment.)
Efficient happens to also coincide with lowest cost and most environmentally
“Green” technologies are nothing special. The key is to know what to
look for. Equipment is considered green if it is efficient to operate and easy
to dispose of at the end of its useful life. Green technologies save companies
money, if viewed over their useful life. For example, an “80 Plus”
grade power supply in a desktop computer will save about $30 per year in
reduced energy consumption over a “standard” desktop unit. However,
there may be a one-time additional cost of about $20 at its purchase. In addition,
a computer designed for easy material separation at disposal is
cheaper to discard at the end of its useful life than one built using a higher
level of toxic materials.
There are three primary characteristics of Green Technologies. One or
more of these can apply to an IT device (computer, printer, monitor, keyboard,
▲ It must use energy efficiently. A piece of equipment with a given
level of capabilities can be designed and assembled with an eye toward
low purchase price, easy disposal, or energy efficient operation.
Unfortunately, many companies emphasize the initial purchase
price and not the cost of running the equipment over its
three or five year useful life. Therefore, most manufacturers focus
on providing the lowest unit price.
▲ It uses the right size equipment for the job. Most people would not
use a semitruck instead of an economy class car to drive back and
forth to a distant grocery store. It would consume significantly
more fuel to accomplish the same amount of work. (Ok, some
people would drive the truck no matter what.) The same applies
to IT systems. Often an oversized server is purchased to support
an application either because it is the company standard or it was
available when a server was needed. The larger device consumes
more energy than a properly sized unit, yet provides the same
amount of benefit to the company.
▲ It includes the cost for the proper disposal of unwanted equipment.
Disposal is something rarely considered during a purchase. After
all, it is years away. Yet the cost to properly dispose of a device is
part of the total cost of unit ownership. Companies may be liable
for the cost of landfill cleanup for improper disposal of equipment.
If you want to wrap up the essential messages of this book, it is to use
less energy and to properly dispose of old equipment. That’s it. Now you
can close the book’s cover. You now know the “what.” However, if you
want to know the “how to do this,” then you must read on.
The Energy Problem
If someone asked you the cost of providing electricity to your data center
for a month, do you even know where to find the information? The primary
cause of the electrical usage problem in a company is the disconnect
between the people who are using electricity and the ones who are paying
the bills. Employee behaviors are the result of a company’s reward system.
The people consuming this resource have little incentive to economize;
they simply assume it’s available. The people who are paying the bills lack
the time or technical understanding to debate its appropriate level of use.
Electrical consumption is a combination of what we are operating and
how we operate it. For efficient electrical usage, which devices should we
buy? Imagine shopping for new computers that were plastered with stickers
such as those found on a new refrigerator—stickers that proclaim the
average amount of energy used by that device in a given year. With this information,
IT managers could make intelligent comparisons of the operational
costs between devices with similar capabilities. That day has not yet
arrived. Purchases are typically based on current company technical standards
or lowest price. Energy consumption is not a determining factor.
Much of the electrical energy purchased by an IT organization is consumed
by equipment sitting idle. Think not? When workers go home at
night, the lights are turned off. Are all desktop PCs turned off as well? How
about their monitors and printers? How much electricity is used while
they sit around with no one to use them? Is this a wise use of a company’s
scarce financial resources?
Think about the data center. Rows of servers, disk drives, tape backup
systems all humming along all day, every day. For most companies, the
daytime hours are used in on-line inquiries, while evening hours are used
for batch processing. Yet only certain servers are engaged in all of the processing.
There could be long stretches of time when many others sit, slurping
down electricity, generating heat that must be cooled. This continues
hour after hour, kilowatt after kilowatt. We cannot flip computer switches
on and off throughout the day. It takes time to start a computer and to
warm up a laser printer. There is business value in having these tools always
So what are the solutions? What are some practical actions to address
these issues without hurting customer support?
Sometimes being green and saving energy go hand in hand. Have you
ever replaced someone’s bulky desktop CRT monitor with an LCD monitor?
The LCD monitor’s smaller size frees desk space for other things, so
people are very happy to make the switch. (The image displayed on LCD
monitors “appears” larger than it is, permitting the use of smaller screens.)
As a side note, you just reduced the company’s electrical expenses for that
single device by two-thirds. The same goes with replacing desktop computers
under a three-year refresh cycle. If the new machines are Energy
Star compliant, then they will provide greater performance (being three
years more technically advanced than the unit they replaced), while using
even less electricity. A component of Energy Star compliance is that the
equipment is set to automatically “go to sleep” (a reduced power state
where everything in memory is saved). Of course, if this function is disabled,
then much of the Energy Star benefit is lost.
Think about Power in a Different Way
Think of energy like any other material used to make something, with a
computer as the factory. Just as a factory uses metal, parts, or glue to create
something, computers use energy to create, process, or store data. This
data has value to the company, so electricity should be an identifiable component
of the cost of goods sold. However, since the cost of electricity is
spread like pennies across a wide range of uses, it appears to be too small
to count. Further, the cost of collecting individual device usage statistics
would be unwieldy and too expensive to be practical.
True, each individual cost is small, but the aggregate cost is high. The
problem is the disconnection between the person using the material (electricity)
and the person paying the bill. When you shop for a new car, do
you look at the vehicle’s miles per gallon rating, or just buy the one whose
shape appeals to you the most? If costs are important to you—as they are
in business—then the miles per gallon rating is a key factor. However, if the
fuel is free, then the equipment’s efficiency becomes irrelevant to you.
So, idea number one is to begin thinking about electricity as a material
that is consumed by the data center and the office desktop computers.
Electricity is essential to complete our daily work. Therefore, it is just the
cost of doing business. This is true. However, the issue is not that electricity
is used, but rather how much is wasted.
Think back to the factory example. What if your factory purchased raw
materials to make a product for retail sale, and 75% of the purchased material
was scrapped—thrown away unused? How long could your company
afford this? That means three out of every four components purchased
were waste? That is how much electricity a desktop computer that
is left on all of the time wastes per year. Electricity cannot be stored. It is
consumed by equipment and the wattmeter is running, but no useful work
was done for the money. Are you concerned yet?
How about another example? Have you ever walked into an office that
was packed tight with boxes of files? These containers full of paper took
up floor space (figure what you pay per square foot), restricted work, and
were a fire hazard. What if the paper is moved out, but the files still exist
on data center disk drives. Because managers and clerks insist that these
files must be instantly available online, these disk drives often sit untouched
and spin and spin and spin around the clock, even on holidays.
In addition, they need to be cooled and, then, there is the expense of hardware
maintenance. In addition, there are the back-up tapes created of the
data on these storage drives. How much would you pay per year to store
these files off-line for occasional use? Remember the disconnect between
the people creating the equipment and the ones who pay the bills. The same
holds true with the expense of backup media.
So, you see, there is more to Green Technologies than just flipping off
the power switch. There may be significant opportunities for savings in an
organization—without any impact on customer service. How can you resist
such a promise! Again the topic is easy to understand—use less electricity.