Introduction: What is Green IT
Environmental and energy conservation issues have taken center stage in the global business arena in recent years. Fueled by the reality of rising energy costs coupled with increased concerns over the global warming climate crisis and other environmental issues, green IT solutions are being actively pursued by enterprises worldwide as a means to bridge the gap between improved profitability and socially responsible business management.
But what exactly is this thing called Green IT? Simply put, Green IT is the practice of implementing policies and procedures that improve the efficiency of computing resources in such a way as to reduce the environmental impact of their utilization. Green IT is founded on the triple bottom line principle which defines an enterprises success based on its economic, environmental and social performance. This philosophy follows that given that there is a finite amount of available natural resources, it is in the best interest of the business community as a whole to decrease their dependence on those limited resources to ensure long term economic viability. Just as the logging industry long ago learned that they need to plant a tree for each that they cut, today’s power consumption enterprises must maximize the conservation of energy until renewable forms become more readily available. This is often referred to as sustainability that is, the ability of the planet to maintain a consistent level of resources to ensure the continuance of the existing level of society and commercial enterprise.
Green IT solutions address a broad set of environmental issues targeted at attaining sustainability. These solutions include:
- Energy Efficiency Maximizing the power utilization of computing systems by reducing system usage during non-peak time periods.
- Reducing Electronic Waste Physical technology components (keyboards, monitors, CPUs, etc.) are often not biodegradable and highly toxic. Several business and governmental directives have been enacted to promote the recycling of electronic components and several hardware manufacturers have developed biodegradable parts.
- Virtualization By utilizing a single server to provide the virtual services that would otherwise need to be provided by multiple systems, overall power consumption is reduced.
- Employing Thin Clients These systems utilize only basic computing functionality (and are sometimes even diskless), utilizing remote systems to perform its primary processing activity. Since antiquated systems can be used to perform this function, electronic waste is reduced. Alternatively, new thin client devices are now available that are designed with low power consumption.
- Telecommuting providing the facilities necessary to allow employees the ability to work from home in order to reduce transportation emissions.
- Remote Administration allowing administrators the ability to remotely access, monitor and repair systems significantly decreases the need for physical travel to remote offices and customer sites. As with telecommuting, this reduced travel eliminates unnecessary carbon emissions.
- Green Power Generation many businesses have chosen to implement clean, renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, to partially or completely power their business.
Of all these, Energy Efficiency provides the greatest potential for quick return on investment, ease of implementation, and financial justification. Several commercial solutions for improving computing energy efficiency have recently become available and Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) strongly recommends the adoption of such a solution not only for its environmental implications, but also for its common-sense reduction on IT infrastructure costs.
The Business Case for Automated Power Management
Today’s economic realities underscore the need to reduce expenses associated with increased IT power requirements. In fact, Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) primary research indicates reducing energy costs as the primary motivator cited by 94% of IT managers for implementing energy reduction initiatives. This should be no surprise as significant saving can be achieved with energy reduction solutions, often justifying the implementation cost of the solution in less than a year. This value has changed the focus of green IT solutions to be more about the green in the wallet than the green of the grass.
In many areas, energy reduction initiatives can actually be used to generate revenue. Power and carbon emission reductions (sometimes referred to as white and green certificates) can be sold as a commodity in locations that have implemented a trading system. Although such programs are more common in Europe, a few U.S. States have instituted them and legislation for a national program is expected to be introduced to Congress very soon. Currently more common in the U.S. (as well as countries abroad), however, is the availability of incentive and rebate programs offered by the utilities that either reduce or reimburse a percentage of power costs as a reward for utilizing energy efficient resources.
Although economics is the primary driver for implementing energy efficient IT solutions, the value is by no means limited to the financial advantages. For instance, a major challenge exists for organizations that have reached the limit of available power for their facilities. Typically, these impact data centers that were initially designed for capacities far below current business IT demand. By limiting growth in the data center, these enterprises must either reduce existing power consumption or risk limiting the growth of their business.
Certainly, a sense of social responsibility has also encouraged many organizations to reduce power consumption in order to decrease carbon emissions and geopolitical confrontations associated with a dependency on oil. Lacking collective business altruism, many government institutions worldwide have instituted regulatory compliance initiatives to limit or reduce power consumption to achieve these social requirements at local, state and national levels. For many enterprises, energy reductions solutions are critical for achieving these regulatory goals without encoring a business impact.
Additionally, the marketing value of implementing power reduction solutions should not be underestimated. Not only do businesses often receive free publicity in mainstream markets, but publically traded energy enterprises that are energy efficient become more attractive to fund managers looking for fiscally and/or socially responsible investments.
Regardless of which value proposition provides the greatest motivator for introducing power management initiatives, it is clear that introducing energy efficiency solutions specifically for information technology implementations, both in the datacenter and on the desktop, can achieve some of the greatest reductions in total enterprise energy consumption. For organizations dependent on IT, power requirements for supporting the technology infrastructure can dwarf any other energy expenditures in the enterprise. Achieving maximum value in IT power management initiatives, however, requires a holistic approach to reducing energy consumption across the enterprise.
Reducing Operational Costs with Energy Efficiency
A common-sense approach to reducing household expense is to turn off the lights whenever you leave a room. You would think this same philosophy would be adopted by business IT centers. Sadly, however, this is rarely the case though sometimes for some very sound reasons. Servers and workstations are often left fully functional and operating 24x7x365. Sometimes this is done to provide 24 hour production support; sometimes to facilitate after hours functions like backups and maintenance; but principally this is done because the manual process of daily shutdowns is both cumbersome and impractical. True energy efficiency in IT business systems requires all these factors to be taken into consideration.
First attempts to introduce energy efficiency to computing were made in 1992 with the introduction of Energy Star, an EPA sponsored program promoting voluntary labeling of products that enhanced energy efficiency. This led to the development of automatic power downs of unused systems and hibernating tools that suspend system operation without the need for a full system shutdown. These tools are primarily used for desktop and client systems which do not require continuous operation and were initially developed to replace the inefficient screen savers applications commonly used at the time. Screen savers do not diminish power usage, but instead are designed to prevent burn-in on the monitor. In fact, many screen savers became so graphic intensive that they actually drew more power when the systems were not in use. Modern power management tools built directly into operating systems now allow users to determine a period of inactivity as a trigger for initiating either a shutdown or system hibernation. This is certainly a much more cost effective solution than footing the bill for digital fish to swim on a computer screen in an empty office.
In July of 2007, the EPA established more stringent requirements for Energy Star, calling for an 80% or greater power supply efficiency. Other industry and governmental regulatory compliance mandates have been introduced worldwide calling for improved power management solutions. This has challenged business IT groups to find innovative methods for performing power management on large number of client systems. Fortunately, recent advances in automated systems management tools have also become available to assist in this process.
As indicated earlier, however, data centers require a more sophisticated solution to power management then desktops. They need to regulate power utilization without impacting day-to-day IT production requirements and business needs. Here again, automation is the key to success. Once a comprehensive policy has been established, triggers and schedules can be set to automatically power down unused systems and power up prior to production use on a maintenance activity.
Implementing a Power Management Solution
Desktop workstations account for a significant portion of total IT energy costs in many cases surpassing that of datacenters. The broad distribution of desktop workstations (PCs and laptops) creates a significant opportunity for energy reduction. Even small percentage reductions in power consumption can add up very quickly to significant cost savings when managing desktop deployments enterprise-wide.
The primary challenges to reducing power consumption on client workstations stem from the common lack of control IT organization have over these devices. Users are often left to manage power conditions on their desktop with little, if any, accountability on energy costs. Modern workstations typically include power management features that automatically place systems in low power consumptions modes (sleep, hibernate, power down monitor, spin down disk drive, etc.) following a designated period of inactivity. According to an EMA study, however, roughly 1/3 of common desktop users claimed to have disabled these features by setting them to never initiate. The same study indicated that on average, desktops were only actually being utilized 56% of each workday, leaving a significant amount of time for systems to be fully powered, but not used. Even worse, 43% of respondents indicated they did not even bother to shut systems down during non-work hours (evenings and weekends).
In most modern enterprises, the decision to standardize on a power management solution needs to be directed at the executive level. This is due to the common practice of separating computing support services from building facilities services. The former manages computer resources and the later manages power consumption. They often have separate budgets and differing priorities. Worse yet, some larger enterprises further subdivide budgets and resources based on project or business department. It is unlikely that IT or department managers, burdened with a variety of project related challenges, will voluntarily take the time and effort to implement policies to reduce energy costs when those expenditures do not come directly out of their budgets. A facilities manager, on the other hand, does not have the ability to implement system level policy changes and will more likely simply deny power access to new projects if the available quota has already been met. It is the executive (most likely a COO or CFO) that is in the best position to enforce policy change.
Once a power management directive has been established, appropriate tools need to be identified to ensure compliance with the corporate energy policy. Preferably, the solution will provide a centralized interface to automate the power utilization of all systems in an IT infrastructure. The solution should also provide the flexibility to account for business and IT specific activities so as to not hinder business performance. Although cost will certainly play a role in choosing a solution, this should be balanced against the cost savings expected to be achieved once the product is implemented. In most cases, a power management solution will provide rapid and justifiable return on investment.
Automated power management solutions are available today that can enforce corporate policies by reporting and automatically configuring power management setting according to established criteria. These solutions also enable automatic power downs of systems during non-use periods. The more robust automated power management solutions also enable automatic power-ups either by leveraging wake-on-LAN enabled infrastructures or intelligent chip sets, such as the Intel vPRO. By creating dynamic schedules for powering down and powering up workstations, IT administrators can reduce power consumption while working around activity periods such as for backups and maintenance windows. Automated power management is among the easiest green IT solutions to implement and provides some of the greatest enterprise-wide energy reductions.