In depth: Sustainable technology solutions

In April next year, the British government's Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) scheme comes into effect and with it a minefield of fines and other penalties for companies that fail in their responsibilities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In April next year, the British government’s Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) scheme comes into effect and with it a minefield of fines and other penalties for companies that fail in their responsibilities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And as companies scramble to get their houses in order, the performance and cost of IT systems and the data centres that house them is coming under increased scrutiny.

Over the past few years, virtualisation has emerged as one of the key tools for addressing sustainability within companies. But other technologies are also evolving, such as for improving the performance of actual applications, as well as telecommunications networks. In the data centre environment, new and established companies are moving ahead with solutions  for reducing power consumption and achieving other efficiencies.

Meanwhile, technology itself is beginning to play a bigger role in helping organisations shrink their carbon footprint; everything from applications for tracking emissions to videoconferencing solutions as a substitute for air travel.
One of the fastest-growing sectors of the IT industry, virtualisation promises to deliver massive improvements in IT efficiency by enabling users to host multiple operating systems and applications on the one server or PC, thereby consolidating the amount of hardware required.

Not surprisingly, sales of virtualisation technology have grown strongly since the onset of the global recession last year. Analyst group Gartner predicts a 43% rise in revenues to US$2.7 billion for the 12 months to this December, with global penetration of the technology on target to reach 20% by next year.

And its not just companies who are taking notice. The government of Ireland recently issued a strong endorsement of virtualisation technology, announcing generous tax breaks for companies that invest in the technology. Products from virtualisation specialists VMWare were singled out, with the government stating that businesses purchasing VMware software along with eligible enterprise storage and server hardware will be able to write-off the entire cost of the purchase against taxable income in year one, as part of theAccelerated Capital Allowance, an expanded tax incentive introduced by the Irish government to encourage companies to invest in energy-efficient equipment.

One of the world’s fastest growing technology companies, VMWare, recently launched its VMWare View 4 product for desktop virtualisation, which promises to reduce desktop cost of ownership by as much as 50%. The company markets a wide range of products for virtualisation, most notably for improving the performance of servers.

According to Ian Brooks, Hewlett Packard’s European Head of Innovation and Sustainable Computing, companies on average utilise only around 15% of the total capacity of their servers, a surprisingly low figure given the current increased demands for more storage and processing power. Most virtualisation products claim to be able to lift this figure to 60% or more.

Brooks notes that not only are most companies unaware of the performance of their servers, but that some “don’t even know what servers they’ve got”. This a common problem for firms with multiple data centres, as well as those that have been involved in mergers or acquisitions.

Further increasing the need for storage and processing resources in the UK are strict laws mandating the storage of larger and larger pools of data such as corporate and customer emails.

This, coupled wth growing concerns about the rising needs and costs of IT systems, is leading to an exodus of companies to cloud computing services, themselves an important element in the sustainability mix.

Power down

When it comes to sustainable IT, one of the biggest concerns organisations have is power consumption.

The current generation of Blade servers are believed to be about 35% more power efficient than servers bought three years ago, thanks to things like sensors designed to control how power supply is used as well as for monitoring airflow around the chassis.

Brooks says that HP is in the process of completing a project in partnership with one of its resellers, which it says has helped saved a prominent retailer around 60% on its annual power bill simply by replacing its old servers with newer more energy-efficient products.

Industry analyst Gartner estimates that removing a typical two-socket x86 server from the datacentre will save an end-user organisation around $410 in power and cooling costs yearly.

Likewise, the deploment of power management software can result in significant savings for organisations. One of the leaders in this market, Verdiem, recently reported that the confectionery and drink giant Cadbury had achieved a 30% reduction in its annual power bill after deploying the software company’s SURVEYOR product at its Canadian businesses. Cadbury has since opted for a global rollout of the technology, which it says could result in a 50% net reduction in its total carbon emissions.

Sustainable data

International tech distributor Zyco is making a big push for what it sees as huge market opportunity in sustainability.

“The channel wants more for less in a sustainable shaped box and Zycko has seen this reflected in the sales of virtualisation, videoconferencing and WAN optimisation technologies,” says UK sales director David Galton-Fenzi.
The company recently released a new product called the File Analysis Tool, designed to improve IT managers’ visibility of the entire data pool. For instance, it is able to identify and categorise different file types, dates of creation and modification, who created the file, and for what department.

Galton-Fenzi says the File Analysis Tool has proved effective in helping companies eliminate the duplication of files across corporate systems. It also helps to limit the amount of tasks that servers need to perform during back-up by identifying files that haven’t been accessed for lengthy periods and therefore require no action.

“Some 60% of data is not accessed for over six months,” Galton-Fenzi says. “So why are companies backing that up every day?”

Smart communications

Telecommunications networks are playing a greater role in sustainability as companies rely more and more on various combinations of fixed and mobile technology to improve staff access to important corporate data.

The proliferation of broadband networks is enabling greater flexibility for staff, for instance to telecommute, or to work from myriad locations, thereby reducing the amount of office real-estate their employers require, in addition to cutting down on travel by not requiring that staff come into work.

It is estimated that around 15% of all carbon emissions come from travel.
For years stuck in some sort of limbo, the teleconferencing market is experiencing positive growth as companies recognise its value both for improving corporate communications while reducing the need for air travel, leading to important cost savings as well as reducing carbon footprints.

HP’s Ian Brooks has held his senior position at HP for nearly two years, yet says he has taken only five flights, using the company’s Halo teleconferencing solution for the majority of meetings that would otherwise require his passport.
And just like with computer hardware, as companies become increasingly reliant on communications technology, it is becoming more important to check the health and performance of this technology.

Zyco sees big potential in the market for so-called WAN Optimisation, designed to help companies squeeze more value out of their communications infrastructure.

The company recently partnered with value-added reseller EssentialNET to help Aberdeen-based oil rig designer Stena Drilling achieve dramatically faster file transmission speeds over both fixed and mobile networks.

Frustrated with what it saw as slow network speeds, Stena was considering upgrading its broadband speed from 512k to 1mb, a move which would have doubled its monthly costs.

Instead, EssentialNET and Zyco deployed a solution from San Francisco-based WAN optimisation specialists Riverbed, which enabled the company to send and receive in 10 seconds a 2Mb file which previously would have taken five minutes to transmit, an outcome Stena says saved it around £9,000 a month.

Riverbed markets a range of what it calls Steelhead Appliances, designed to help companies of all sizes to improve the efficiency of their WAN infrastructures by doing things like reducing bandwidth utilisation, optimising all TCP connections, and accelerating key applications.

The company boasts that its Riverbed Steelhead appliances and Steelhead Mobile increase network throughput and application performance by up to a staggering 100 times, a figure which reflects the room for improvement in many company’s WAN environments.

A Gartner Magic Quadrant company, Riverbed, was ranked 21st on Deloitte’s 2009 Technology Fast 500.

Fine print

Companies also recognise the need to reduce waste and improve efficiency when it comes to printing.

The ‘Think Before You Print’ campaign by Japanese equipment giant Ricoh is aimed at raising awareness about the amount of waste generated by printing and to develop effective ways for reducing it.

James Deacon, head of Corporate Social Responsibility with Ricoh UK, cites recent research from Gartner revealing that more than 50% of what companies spend on printing is wasted.

Like most of its competitors in the printing market, Ricoh has moved to incorporate features into its products to force more thoughtful and less wasteful practices within companies.

The Eco Mode feature now being incorporated into all of Ricoh’s printers and other paper-based equipment, is designed to monitor and restrict the use of paper, for instance, by asking users to submit a personal pin number before being issued with documents.

Printer manufacturers are also developing features to encourage greater use of duplex printing in the face of recent studies indicating that less than 5% of printing in the corporate world is currently double-sided.

Aside from the need to rein in the use of paper, companies are also beginning to look more carefully at the performance of their actual printing hardware. Ricoh’s Deacon notes, for instance, that printers at UK companies are on average running only at about 38% of their maximum capacity.

Inside the data centre

Several studies over the last few years have indicated that the average corporate data centre runs well below its optimal efficiency, with surprisingly large amounts of energy used to run non IT-related equipment such as cooling and ventilation systems.

In response, a number of established IT players, as well as some specialist newcomers, have been investing in new products and services to help companies contain the costs of their data centres in addition to shrinking their carbon footprint.

UK-based Ark Continuity has become a respected specialist in data centre design and frequently advises companies on how best to meet their IT needs while reducing energy consumption.

The company advises, for instance, that many data centres would realise something in the order of a 15% improvement in efficiency simply by investing in things like more power efficient transformers, battery-free UPS ( uninterrupted power supply ) and naturally ventilated switchgear.

For the past few years, Ark Continuity has been building a large data centre facility out at the site of an old munitions storage facility near Wiltshire, which it says will become one of Europe’s premier data centre locations once it opens in November this year.

Called Spring Park, the facility is positioned and built on a legacy of more than 50 years’ investment in critical national infrastructure. Spring Park comprises 14.79ha of surface land, 9.29ha of underground, access to 114MVA diverse power supply and 93,000m⊃2; of consented data centre and office development. Located one mile from the A4 and 8 miles from J17 of the M4 between Swindon and Bristol, the site is adjacent to secure Ministry of Defence facilities and benefits from significant connectivity infrastructure.

Ark COO Steve Webb says that the facility offers something like 40% better energy efficiency than comparable corporate data centres. One of the reasons is access to abundant supplies of cool underground water.

Data centres around the world are increasingly being designed to take into account natural resources, especially for cooling. For instance, the government of Iceland, in collaboration with industry, has invested heavily in developing data centre infrastructure designed to exploit the country’s cooler climes.

These sorts of options will undoubtedly become more popular in the next few years as companies look to balance the need for vast increases in storage and computing power with increased pressure to address their carbon footprint.
Likewise, investment in technologies for improving the efficiency of not just only hardware, but also telecommunications networks and even applications is bound to increase sharply.

For the channel, this means opportunities to use sustainability to add value to their existing offerings, as well as generating sales from new and emerging products.

Of course it’s difficult to predict how the current focus on sustainability will influence the technology industry and channel in years to come. However, it does seem likely that companies will demand stronger guarantees that the technologies and services they are buying will help them in meeting their own responsibilities.

In fact, over at Ark Continuity, Webb predicts that CO2 emissions may soon be an accepted component of his company’s service level agreements with customers.

“We may one day need to provide actual and real guarantees for our customers with regard to their carbon emissions,” he says.

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