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  Straits Times: Digital Life 23 Oct 07
Counting the costs of green IT

IRENE THAM finds out what companies are doing to save the earth and cut energy costs at the same time

Ask any IT director in Singapore what he understands of the term 'green IT', and the answer is inevitably energy-saving servers.

Though bottom-line-minded companies here seem clear about the recent green movement's biggest promise - cheaper power bills - it remains a hard sell to small firms, say some experts.

'Many are already wary of the never-ending cycle of patches, refreshes and upgrades. Unless green IT results in substantial cost savings, don't expect them to switch anytime soon,' said Mr Philip Chua, chief information and technology officer at the National Heritage Board.

He noted that small companies usually have few servers, which use very little electricity anyway, making an eco-friendly upgrade unattractive.

But the story is different at larger organisations, some of which are already reaping benefits from green IT.

Polo Ralph Lauren Sourcing, a Singapore-based company that handles the famous clothing brand's retail operations in Asia, for one, is beginning to feel the heat - not just from its server rooms but also from hefty utility bills.

'Electrical consumption for our 40 Wintel servers in Singapore amount to more than $8,000 every month,' said Mr Freddie Low, the company's director of Asia network services.

Energy costs at its regional IT hub here are expected to rise as the company expands.

It will need more data storage, even as energy prices continue to soar.

Studies show that whereas a 1.8m-tall rack of computing gear would consume 2 to 3 kilowatts of energy five years ago, the same rack now uses upwards of 10 kilowatts. This includes power needed to cool the servers.

A Google engineer, Mr Luiz Andre Barroso, admitted two years ago that if performance per watt were to remain constant over the next few years, the search firm's server electricity costs could outpace hardware costs by a huge margin.

At Polo Ralph, a pilot project is already underway to test the benefits of virtualisation, a technique that allows computing resources to be shared among applications to prevent idling or under-use.

This means it does not need to buy as many servers for the same functions, which in turn translates to less power used.

Said Mr Low: 'We recently deployed VMware's virtualisation software at our new Hong Kong office and have seen power consumption go down by half.'

Based on its application needs, Polo Ralph would have to buy eight servers for the new office in Hong Kong. With virtualisation, it only needs four.

Mr Low is currently proposing to the company board to consolidate the 40 servers in Singapore onto newer machines and move certain applications such as file and print to a virtual environment. He hopes to replicate the cost savings seen in Hong Kong in Singapore, and subsequently other Asian offices, over time.

He is also thinking of hosting the servers at the premises of a third-party service provider to avoid building a data centre, which would involve at least $170,000. This covers the installation of fire-rated doors, air conditioners and cabling, among others, and is on top of recurring operational expenses.

While using resources more optimally is one way, hardware makers are also designing more power-efficient gear - from the ground up.

In May, IBM unveiled Project Big Green that would see US$1 billion (S$1.5 billion) invested in developing energy-efficient technologies to combat the data centre energy crunch worldwide.

In March, major vendors like AMD, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems came together to look into standardising the power supply of servers and networking gear.

The goal: To cut down the heat created from converting between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) that is prevalent in data centres with equipment from different vendors.

Vendors have also started to market more green hardware. Hewlett-Packard sells tape-based storage systems, claimed to be eco-friendly because there are no movable parts that generate heat.

Hitachi Data Systems recently launched its first green storage system targeted at small and medium enterprises, called Hitachi Simple Modular Storage, which complies with RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) regulations.

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