Large corporations are moving away from piecemeal green activities and are adopting broader strategies to cope with the environmental issues that affect their business. For the IT director this means less work on isolated green "hobbies", and more joined-up thinking with peers to create sustainable policies.
Geoff Lane, partner, sustainable business solutions at accounting and consulting firm PriceWaterhouse Coopers and former head of environmental policy at the Confederation of British Industry, reports that more clients are seeking advice on how to benchmark their green activity. "Companies regularly come to us and say, 'We have recycling programmes or duplex printing policies in place but we want to raise our game'."
The trend is pronounced in the public sector with the government promoting green citizenship in the hope that other sectors will follow suit.
A fresh focus for IT departments in all organisations is how to green the datacentre. Computing power per square foot may have increased with the use of multicore chips and blades, but this concentration of hardware also generates more heat and the problem of how to dissipate it.
According to analyst firm Gartner, most large enterprises' IT departments spend about 5% of their total IT budgets on energy, and this could rise by two to three times within the next five years.
One of the ways to decrease power consumption is to better integrate facilities teams and engineers with the IT department. "The typical engineer does not look past the power supply or the gateway to the IT piece," says Patrick Fogarty, director of consultant engineering practice, Norman Disney and Young, and a speaker at Datacenter Dynamics' Next Big Datacentre Challenge energy summit in London in February.
Similarly, the IT team is predisposed to grab at all available power to keep its applications running, according to several delegates at the summit.
"If we could do it all over again without the legacy datacentre architecture, we would take a more holistic view. From the CPU to the actual transmission, there are a lot of inefficiencies leaked through cabling, plus the massive inefficiencies in the ways we cool IT," says Fogarty.
CIOs and their staff in many organisations are turning their gaze to the datacentre to try to plug these leaks.
"One of the biggest issues around power consumption in IT is the datacentre," says Ben Booth, global chief technology officer at research firm Ipsos. Ipsos has datacentres scattered around the globe, ranging from vast server farms to machines stuffed into back offices. Booth is reviewing ways to consolidate these in order to reduce the bill, reduce numbers and provide a round-the-clock service to customers.
Case study: HSBC
Global banking and financial services firm HSBC has been carbon neutral since October 2005. It achieves this through energy efficiency measures and green procurement, as well as offsetting.
Ensuring that its datacentres are efficient is a big part of HSBC's carbon neutral status. According to Matthew Robinson, manager of the sustainable development team, one way to improve on efficiencies is to ensure IT teams, engineers and facilities management meet regularly.
One design choice at HSBC that has had a significant saving has been to use water-cooled chillers instead of packaged air coolers. The former rejects heat to a cooler temperature and is more efficient. This alone has gained energy savings of 29% in the datacentre, says Robinson.
The drive to green the datacentre comes from employees and stakeholders. "While the bottom line is never far from senior management's lips, there is a green agenda too," he says.
This is confirmed by Ken Harvey, group CIO of HSBC. "As the price of oil has hit the roof, the cost of powering datacentres has become something IT directors can no longer ignore. Green is not just a nicety careful power management will actually help businesses save money."
Case study: Betfair
Online betting exchange Betfair redesigned the front end of its server architecture for a greener, less power-hungry model. Hard figures were a large part of the decision as energy prices were increasing.
"The cost factor kicked in last year when our co-location provider became constrained by the amount of energy it could deliver, given the trend to higher density, power-hungry racks," says Rorie Devine, chief technology officer.
Betfair chose not to go down the route of consuming ever bigger amounts of power. "We decided to implement technology that would enable us to use less power," Devine says.
The main route to reducing power consumption was to review the chip technology and server architecture powering its 60 Solaris databases.
As a result, Betfair switched from Intel Xeon chips to AMD Opteron chips and replaced Dell servers with Sun servers. This cut power requirements by 50%. By adopting Sun's Ultrasparc T1 processor with "Coolthreads" denser chip technology, Betfair reduced the 16kW of power needed to run its database servers to 3kW.
The IT department noticed a triple benefit. "There was more power from the racks. We drew less energy, with the extra benefit that because the servers expended less energy and heat, we also spent less energy cooling them."
Betfair is seeking further power reduction through server virtualisation. "We want to extract the maximum value from the fewest machines and this has already led to a power saving to date of 84% in this area," says Devine.
Case study: Basingstoke and Deane
Simon Wilkin client services manager at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council instigated policies that saved 1.5 million pieces of paper from reaching the landfill. He has since taken his sustainability efforts to the Avon and Somerset Police in his new role as services support manager.
Key to achieving these eco results was having a sound financial case. "It is a disaster to come over as a tree hugger," he says. It also helps if initiatives are part of a sustainability effort, because they are less likely to be perceived as a diktat from the IT department.
Paper was an early focus at Basingstoke and Deane, "But it is by no means the whole picture," says Wilkin. He was prompted into action by the sight of huge bins of recycled paper being lugged across the floor by the cleaners every night. "Paper consumption was big in the organisation and recycling was not the answer."
Having a sensible hardware strategy was a part of the solution, and Wilkin implemented Kyocera models as older less eco-friendly printers were retired. Unlike traditional printers where the entire cartridge, including the print drum, is regularly replaced, Kyocera models use a long-life drum.
"The capital outlay of the printers is the same but the printer 'consumables' are half the price," Wilkin says. And this is no small saving: at his new workplace of Avon and Somerset Police, printer consumables cost £750,000 last year.
Wilkin also realised he had to change people's behaviour at the council, as well as make printers devour less paper and toner parts.
The lifecycle of a piece of paper is frighteningly short and the council launched intranets where staff could publish documents they wanted to share.
Additionally, every meeting room was equipped with a plasma screen so that documents could be shared and seen at meetings.
Other green practices were introduced by the sustainability committee. This included the controversial move of banning individual waste bins from beneath people's desks and removing recycling bins that had been placed at the side of the printers.
"There was a hue and cry at the move," says Wilkin, but it was justified on finance grounds. "It made the cleaning contract more straightforward and cheaper."
Case study: Kingston College
Kingston College invested in environmentally friendly, "quiet" PCs to cut down on its energy bill, but has been pleasantly surprised by other benefits to the learning environment.
"They are exceptionally quiet and produce less heat", says Nader Moghaddam, head of IT systems at Kingston. In a room of 30 or so lively students, these quieter, cooler desktop devices are more conducive to concentration and comfortable learning, a facet that teachers really appreciate.
To date, 200 Ecoquiet "whisper quiet" PCs have been installed on a replacement basis as legacy desktops are retired. RM, supplier of the Ecoquiet range, says they consume just 66% of the energy of the conventional design. According to the supplier's savings calculator, Kingston College will save 94,864kW of electricity and £8,537.72 over three years.
Moghaddam says it is hard to pin down precisely the cost saving contributed by the Ecoquiet PCs, which are still being rolled out.
"They are wrapped up with other green initiatives, introduced more recently, including the centralised powering down of all PCs, every night at 10pm," he says.
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This was first published in May 2007