Jun 09 2009

Lean and Green Computing

Save money while reducing the impact on the environment.

Most public-sector organizations have never been flush with money, but the current economic crisis has put additional stress on IT budgets. Taking on new projects generally means spending money that organizations just don’t have right now. But implementing a green computing initiative can save money while helping to save the planet. Now is the time for IT, facilities and business departments to review their power utility statements.

It’s likely that 20 to 25 percent of those power bills can be attributed to the data center (or server closet), end-user computers and related equipment, according to the Department of Energy. Data centers alone use 10 to 100 times the power per square foot than other office space.

Green computing involves the purchase, energy use, disposal and use of computers to reduce waste of natural resources. With appropriate policies, practices and sometimes a small investment, great strides can be made toward becoming responsible stewards of our natural resources while setting a positive example for the community.


Green purchasing entails selecting environmentally friendly products that contain minimal toxins and primary metals, while using recycled materials when possible. It is also important to select products that use less energy over time, through low power processors and sleep or hibernate features. Help is available for making green purchasing decisions for desktops, notebooks and monitors (and soon, servers): Many manufacturers are certifying their products with Energy Star 4 and EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), which take into account materials, energy use and end-of-life criteria.

Energy Usage

The best opportunity for saving money is from reducing the power consumption of the networked environment. It’s important to set policies concerning end-user computing and evaluate data-center options. The keys to reducing power consumption by computers and related equipment are measuring energy usage over time and providing incentives for reductions to the IT budget. Few chief technology officers are responsible for monitoring IT power consumption, and most already have too much to do to take it on.

You will need a baseline of current energy consumption to measure progress toward reducing it. There are software tools for end-user computing and hardware monitors for data centers. For end-user computing, consider a “turn it off” policy using sleep or hibernate features or network-based measurement and management software, such as Power Save from Faronics.

Data centers can require as much power to run air-conditioning and power supplies as they do servers. Any reduction in wattage used by servers is more than doubled when taking into account chillers, humidifiers, computer room air-conditioners, universal power supplies and power distribution units. When considering that servers frequently run at 10 percent utilization or less, there is a lot of energy consumed by idle cycles.


E-waste is a major world problem: Reusable materials are not recycled, and toxins such as lead and cadmium leach into groundwater and streams. With few U.S. restrictions in place, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of old computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment ends up in landfills, mostly in Third World countries. It is interesting to note that there is salvage value in most of these disposed computers.

The U.S. government and individual states are rushing to catch up with much of Europe, where strict e-waste regulations are in place. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the international Basel Action Network have developed regulations for recycling and disposal of e-waste. Both EPA and BAN post lists of recycling/disposal organizations that meet their regulations.

Reduce Waste

Computer technology can be used to save money and our natural resources in several ways, including reducing printing, limiting travel and managing energy use for buildings.

There are several ways to get more energy efficiency from printers, including consolidation of printers and copiers into multifunction devices. While consolidating printers is a good strategy, another effective tactic is to reduce what is actually printed. The question to ask is, “What are we printing today, and how much of that can be managed electronically through online forms and web-based applications?” There is certainly an opportunity to reduce paper for internal communications, and there also might be e-mail and web-based opportunities for citizen communications.

Travel also has costs and related adverse effects to the environment. It makes sense to investigate current travel by employees and to search for alternatives to minimize the need for travel, such as videoconferencing or telepresence.

Staff from different sites can meet via videoconferencing, conference calls or a growing number of web-based online meeting services. Also, travel time for IT end-user support personnel can be reduced by implementing centralized support functions through help desks and remote management tools.

For managing energy use in your buildings, there are utility management and reporting tools that audit, track and analyze utility consumption and costs to identify opportunities for significant savings.

Now is the time for organizations to save money while reducing the impact on our environment, setting a positive example for the community.