Green Computing: Who Cares?

I'm into building green—that is, using building materials and designs to create environmentally friendly spaces. But I recently began thinking about green computing when I saw how my basement had become an IT graveyard for my family's decade's worth of computers.

After some research, I found a computer recycler in my area. However, I also found data that argues that it's better to re-use your PC rather than end-stage recycle it. (See the Microsoft article "Field Notes: Recycle Your PC" at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/technetmag/issues/2007/10/ for more info.)

For now I think, the computer graveyard will remain in my basement. Sometimes, when I'm feeling retro, I run down there and fire up the Windows 95 system. Sort of the same impulse, I suppose, that prompts my Xbox360-loving teen to dig out his Super NES Nintendo system and play his old Final Fantasy games. But at least green computing is now on my radar screen.

When it comes to greening the desktop, it appears major PC makers are also taking green computing more seriously than before. (See Paul Thurrott's WinInfo news article "PC Giants Go Green," InstantDoc ID 96295 for more information.) Some have formed a group called Climate Savers Computing Initiative (www.climatesavers.org), which has created guidelines for how to make PCs more energy efficient and less noxious to the environment.

So how conscious are you of green computing? I'll bet it's not exactly at the top of your "things I have to worry about in IT" list. I'd even bet my two Penton Technology Media Christmas Party (Loveland group) drink tickets it's not even on most IT pros' lists.

But I'll bet your CIO is thinking about green computing, both at the desktop and server level. Or he or she will soon be. Which means you'll feel the trickle-down effects at some point.

So what about green computing at the server level? Most of us have heard horror stories of servers overheating and crucial company data lost. I personally will never forget the day when our IT guys where I used to work told the copywriters and graphic designers that three days' worth of our creative work had been obliterated because the server room cooling system broke down and the servers overheated.

What's the cost of keeping servers cooled and powered in terms of company spending as well as impact to the environment? It's been measured, and it's not pretty.

One source, an article by Vikram Mehta at greenercomputing.com caught my eye just today. In it, he says the following about the environmental cost of power and cooling for server farms and all their associated networking paraphernalia:

"Consider that the average 1U rack switch with 24 Ethernet ports uses a minimum of 250 watts of power (most use more). In continuous use -- a requirement for most 24x7 Web businesses -- each switch consumes 2190 kWh annually. If the source of this electricity is a coal-fired plant (as is the case in many emerging economies around the world), producing 2190 kWh of energy requires 1780 pounds of coal. 1780 pounds of coal releases over two tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere along with other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. This doesn't even include the impurities released during mining and transportation. Multiply two tons of pollutants per year by tens of millions of rack switches currently in production worldwide, and it's easy to see that we have a major environmental catastrophe on our hands."

About the business costs of keeping server farms and associated equipment cooled and powered, Mehta says, "For every dollar in server spending today, companies spend $.50 on power and cooling, and it is expected to rise to $.70 by 2010," citing an IDC white paper by Jed Scaramella.

One answer dear to my heart is to—surprise!—build green. Many private sector companies and some public sector organizations are creating energy-efficient data centers. A second answer, this one closer to my occupation, is to look into server sizing at the front end and server consolidation at the back end. A third answer, one that captures my imagination as well as my sense of logic, is virtualization. You've probably seen articles on the second and third answers in Windows IT Pro magazine and on our Web site. But our angle was never the green angle. Is that something we should be paying attention to? Or do you care?

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