IT professionals should beware environmental cost of complexity

Millions of working PCs are dumped in landfill sites in the UK every year, but why?

Millions of working PCs are dumped in landfill sites in the UK every year, but why?

Some need to be replaced because of faults or failures. Most, though, are deemed to be too old, too slow or incapable, and are scrapped.

Why must we continually upgrade our PCs? What is actually wrong with all those redundant PCs? Did they clash with the new office carpet? Or was it because the latest software application demanded it?

Indeed, why do we need the latest software application? What was wrong with the last one? It is a question that IT professionals should be asking.

And why do the latest software applications demand newer and faster PCs? It is because the new applications require a lot of processing power to integrate with existing applications and to run all the "bells and whistles". In a word, it is because of complexity.

This complexity is driving the requirement for more powerful PCs. It has spawned a world where PCs are endlessly and needlessly scrapped, making way for yet another generation of modern, ever more complex, software applications.

Even where PCs are reused, the benefits of doing so are counterbalanced by the continual energy requirements of the PC itself.

My 550MHz Pentium III PC, with a 17-inch monitor, consumes 180 watts of electricity. Employed for 30 hours a week over the course of a year, it uses electricity costing £28. For a company with 50,000 PCs being used for 40 hours a week, the annual electricity bill just to power its PCs will be about £1.8m.

To make matters worse, all this electricity consumption generates a vast amount of wasted heat, which in turn means more electricity simply to get rid of it, through fans or air conditioners. Could we reuse this heat by integrating it into our home or office heating systems?

If we switched off all PCs we would eliminate the problem of PC redundancy and save all that electricity and money. But we do need some of these PCs some of the time, and some others all of the time.

The BCS Code of Conduct states that, as an IT professional, you should have regard for the environment. The Kyoto Agreement is aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. The production of electricity to make and use PCs produces carbon dioxide, which may be partly responsible for climate change. As IT professionals we should be ensuring that our IT takes these aspects into account and help to save our environment - and our money.


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