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By Neil Rasmussen
As an increasing number of companies make reducing carbon emissions a key part of their business strategies, how can Green IT help them reach these goals and how will it help them save costs in the long run?

Green IT is a term whose definition is still “under construction”.  For some it threatens to be yet another set of burdensome compliance requirements, while others view it as a “win-win” opportunity to improve efficiency and benefit society at the same time.

There is an emerging consensus that Green IT is coming and that it will have two important phases: first, the greening of IT, in which the environmental impacts of IT operations will be dramatically reduced, and second, IT as a tool for overall greening of enterprises, in which IT will provide capabilities that will help companies reduce environmental impacts in all aspects of their operations.

We are now entering the first phase of Green IT, and the evidence is clear: there are huge opportunities to reduce the environmental impacts of IT operations and save money at the same time, and many of these opportunities provide excellent return on investment.

The typical server is responsible for roughly 2.5 tons of CO2 per year, which means every two servers have approximately the same environmental impact as the average car.

This is an interesting fact, but today it is very difficult to incorporate this concept into IT decision making, particularly when metrics for carbon are still being defined, benchmarks are unavailable, and responsibility for carbon remains unclear in most organisations.

In the first phases of Green IT, the most practical and effective way to drive change in organisations is to express the problem in financial terms. When we consider that an average server is responsible for an electrical energy cost of about 1,500 Euros per year, and over half this energy cost is typically wasted, the environmental problem transforms into a financial opportunity.

During the next few years, Green IT initiatives focused on reduction of IT-related environmental impacts will primarily need to use energy costs as a proxy for environmental impacts.

A focus on energy costs at this time is in the interest of both IT organisations and society as a whole, because the dominant environmental impacts, and almost all the associated carbon emissions, are caused by energy use.

There are many aspects to Green IT, including data centre water consumption, embedded carbon, equipment disposal, and energy use. Over time, regulations and technology shifts will address these problems. For most of these problems, it is difficult for a single organisation to justify working on them in a meaningful way. Energy use, however, is the one area where organisations can take short-term actions that generate immediate financial returns.

Organisations typically waste energy for IT in four different ways:
* They have IT resources online that should be retired,
*They have IT resources that are grossly underutilised,

*They have IT hardware that was not selected based on its energy efficiency, and *They have power and cooling systems that are consuming more power than the IT equipment itself and are improperly configured, sized, or operated. When we consider that IT energy use is a substantial portion of the carbon footprint of many organisations, the improvement of IT energy efficiency becomes a profitable way to reduce carbon emissions.

One of the frustrations that many executives have with initiatives related to IT is that huge upfront investments are required, and these investments are justified based on projected future returns that are difficult to measure and often unrealised. Fortunately, many of the opportunities related to IT energy savings actually cost very little or are even free, and the savings can be measured almost immediately.

While many high-impact, low-cost energy improvement opportunities are available during the planning of a new data centre, existing data centres typically also have many low or even no cost opportunities to reduce energy use, including optimisation of settings, minor equipment layout adjustments, blocking undesirable airflows and air leakage, and minor adjustments to airflow systems such as raised floor tiles and ducting.

There are a small but growing number of expert consultants with the skills to assist such improvements, and many white papers and tools that can allow users to make these adjustments themselves.

Executives need to set the right tone or targets regarding efficiency improvements, but in general will need to rely on the skills of their staff to implement specific strategies to optimise the efficiency of IT operations. However, there are three important policies that executives can and should implement to drive reductions in energy use of IT.

First, a policy should be established that IT decisions must explicitly include the cost of energy in all total cost analysis. When energy costs are properly included, many decisions such as server retirement, IT hardware selection/purchasing, and virtualisation become more obvious or more urgent. The most effective way to implement this is to allocate energy costs and carbon to IT users.

A recent white paper from APC titled “Allocating Data Centre Energy Costs and Carbon to IT Users” shows that energy and carbon allocation can be a relatively simple and inexpensive process that any size data centre can deploy immediately.

Second, policies of server standardisation should be implemented. This standardisation will facilitate ongoing virtualisation programs. Less recognised is that standardisation of physical IT equipment results in more efficient data centre layout and more uniform power density and more uniformity in the temperature and volumes of airflows, which can permit sizable gains in the energy efficiency of power and cooling systems.

Third, require all data centres to report the efficiency of the power and cooling infrastructure, using the industry standard PUE or DCiE metrics, and establish an ongoing programme of continuous improvement.

One of the great problems with IT energy use is that it is generally invisible. Making energy visible in the IT decision processes, as well as visible in the day-to-day operations of the data centre, is the first step executives should take in preparing their organisations for a greener IT future.
Neil Rasmussen is the Senior VP of Innovation for APC by Schneider Electric.

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