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24 Sep 07
Time for the IT crowd to go green
Viewpoint by Steve Nunn
Despite the many benefits they bring, society's growing dependence on computers is taking its toll on the environment, says Steve Nunn. In this week's Green Room, he calls for a "strategic shift" in mindsets to curb IT's growing impacts.
For most people, using complex technology has become a part of daily life. Yet many people do not seem to understand the green issues that arise from the increase in computing power.
In a world where cutting energy costs and achieving efficiencies are important to both households and companies, this situation has certainly emerged as a priority in boardrooms.
Unsurprisingly, it is the energy consumed by companies and their "data centres" that is causing the bulk of the power consumption.
As IT managers today grapple with trying to deliver value, boost efficiency and reduce costs, they now have to consider their green footprint too.
Consequently, there is a continual quest to identify ways in which these goals can be achieved - a quest which is currently driving the trend towards consolidating, streamlining and simplifying data centres.
Plugging the gap
Of course, in today's business world, data centres have a crucial role to play. Properly run, they provide robust data back-up, as well as ensuring effective disaster recovery and operational resilience.
Simplifying these core functions is not easy, but it can be achieved in such a way that major energy savings are delivered simultaneously with the business benefits.
This is an exciting prospect. The concentration of computing hardware in companies' data centres is enormous and, outside of manufacturing plants, these centres account for the bulk of most companies' power consumption. They also generate vast amounts of heat.
Companies are well aware of their corporate and social responsibilities. Being seen to be green plays an essential part in their relationships with customers, suppliers and investors. Yet, so far, few have made the connection between IT efficiency and green compliance.
This needs to change. Green citizenship is a central tenet of companies' duty to behave responsibly. As they plan the consolidation of their data centres, IT managers should be actively selecting replacement technologies that will provide more muscle for less power.
These technologies are available but they are still under-exploited. According to a leading market analysis organisation, the IT departments of most large organisations spend around 5% of their total annual budgets on energy.
As computing power per square foot of office space increases, this percentage is set to double or even treble within the next five years.
By investing in "intelligent" power-saving technologies, companies could significantly cut back on this outlay, while doing their bit to save the planet.
As well as investing in this new technology, companies could also achieve significant cost savings by taking a more holistic view of the power supplies on which their businesses depend.
Instead of having engineers and facilities teams working apart from the IT department, closer integration between these functions would help to ensure that energy is not wasted as a result of poor cabling and poor IT cooling.
At the same time, these companies and the hardware vendors that supply them need to be planning ahead. Today's new equipment can soon become redundant, and there is a parallel need to ensure that, when it reaches the end of its lifecycle, it can be recycled as effectively as possible.
The arrival of intelligent and energy-efficient technology is a radical and timely development. Putting it to good use calls for a shift in the strategic mindset of IT departments.
If they can make this shift they will find that they not only meet the interests of shareholders today, but also of future generations for decades to come.
Steve Nunn is global practice leader for Data Centre Technology & Operations at Accenture, a global management consulting and technology services company
The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
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