Go­ing ‘green’

‘If you don’t know what the cost is then it’s im­pos­si­ble to work out where to save’

Finweek English Edition - - Focus On -

EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL AWARE­NESS is a key part of mod­ern cul­ture, from the fo­cus on re­cy­cling to in­creased aware­ness on the ef­fect hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties are hav­ing on the planet. For its part, tech­nol­ogy has been both a bless­ing and a curse for the green move­ment: on the one hand it’s dra­mat­i­cally in­creased the amount of power con­sumed, plus is­sues cre­ated by the dis­posal of elec­tronic goods once they’ve out­lived their use­ful­ness.

The pre­rog­a­tive for IT com­pa­nies to take cog­ni­sance of their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment has been sharp­ened by re­cent events in SA, where elec­tric­ity cuts have high­lighted the need to rein in power con­sump­tion on the tech­nol­ogy front.

One prob­lem fac­ing many IT or­gan­i­sa­tions is they have no idea how much power the in­fra­struc­ture un­der their am­bit ac­tu­ally con­sumes. That’s be­cause, tra­di­tion­ally, elec­tric­ity was sup­plied by and paid for by a fa­cil­i­ties or­gan­i­sa­tion, and IT sim­ply had to make sure those pro­vid­ing it knew how much they were go­ing to need.

How­ever, the spec­tre of in­creas­ing elec­tric­ity costs has put al­most ev­ery com­pany into the mode of cut­ting con­sump­tion wher­ever pos­si­ble – some­thing that doesn’t mean cut­ting us­age in IT de­part­ments but be­ing asked to de­liver more ser­vices than ever without in­creas­ing it.

Mau­reen Baird, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and so­lu­tions ex­ec­u­tive at IBM SA, says there are two key com­po­nents in cal­cu­lat­ing how power is con­sumed in any com­pany. First, the IT in­fra­struc­ture it­self. That’s com­posed of servers, stor­age, net­work switches, desk­tops, note­books and mon­i­tors. Sec­ond, the sup­port in­fra­struc­ture, which keeps ev­ery­thing run­ning, in­clud­ing un­in­ter­rupt­ible power sup­plies and air-con­di­tion­ers.

She says the dis­trib­uted en­vi­ron­ment – desk­tops, print­ers, note­books and the like – hasn’t re­ceived the kind of at­ten­tion it should have. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing that dis­play units alone ac­count for 15% of power us­age in IT it’s some­thing com­pa­nies are now pay­ing at­ten­tion to.

There’s a move away from sim­ple en­ergy ef­fi­ciency to­wards mea­sur­ing the broader car­bon foot­print of tech­nol­ogy. “That’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant when you con­sider IT ac­counts for 2% of the global car­bon foot­print,” Baird says. She adds the best way for any com­pany is to con­duct an en­ergy as­sess­ment and use that to look for po­ten­tial sav­ings. That could be as sim­ple as buy­ing LCD in­stead of tra­di­tional CRT mon­i­tors when it’s time to re­place them, or even re­plac­ing servers in the data cen­tre.

The prob­lem that many com­pa­nies face is that the chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer doesn’t know how much power the IT un­der his con­trol con­sumes. Baird says re­cent re­search shows 26% of CIOs have no idea what the cost of run­ning their equip­ment is. “If you don’t know what the cost is then it’s im­pos­si­ble to work out where to save.”

The tragedy is the power IT has to mea­sure and mon­i­tor – which has long been used in other com­pany sec­tors – isn’t be­ing lever­aged in the fight to cut back on en­ergy us­age. “IT has a key role to play in cre­at­ing a holis­tic view of en­ergy con­sump­tion in an or­gan­i­sa­tion – not just the use of power by IT equip­ment but the com­plete spec­trum of us­age through­out the or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

Once that us­age pat­tern has been es­tab­lished it’s pos­si­ble to track the com­pany’s car­bon foot­print. That bench­mark will also al­low com­pa­nies to en­ter into car­bon trad­ing, where they can get other com­pa­nies to buy their car­bon cred­its – the re­duc­tion in a com­pany’s car­bon foot­print – which could off­set costs as­so­ci­ated with a power re­duc­tion pro­gramme.

Baird says there’s cur­rently a gap in that mar­ket as there’s no leg­is­la­tion in SA stip­u­lat­ing com­pa­nies should cut their car­bon foot­print. That makes the is­sue a bit murkier, as it’s un­clear whether com­pa­nies that cut their car­bon foot­print be­fore leg­is­la­tion – ap­par­ently in the works – would re­ceive credit for any re­duc­tion. “There will al­ways be a gap be­tween do­ing the right thing and com­ply­ing with leg­is­la­tion.”

The Car­bon Dis­clo­sure Project (CDP) sur­veyed the top 40 JSE-listed com­pa­nies last year. Only 57% of re­spond­ing com­pa­nies pro­vided quan­ti­ta­tive data on their green­house gas emis­sions, against 79% of re­spon­dents in the CDP’s global FT500 sur­vey. The per­cent­age of SA com­pa­nies dis­clos­ing emis­sion data was lower among the high im­pact sec­tors at 50%. The prob­lem with those fig­ures is they aren’t au­dited, so their ac­cu­racy will re­main in doubt un­til a sys­tem is put in place to do so.

How­ever, Baird says a re­cent sur­vey of in­ter­na­tional CEOs put cli­mate change on the top of their agen­das and that presents an op­por­tu­nity for CIOs to add value to a com­pany by tak­ing charge of that process and in adopt­ing a greener stance.

She says IBM world­wide has com­mit­ted to cut­ting power us­age by 50% over the next few years while also scal­ing up the com­put­ing power of its in­fra­struc­ture by a fac­tor of 10. The trick here isn’t just us­ing

more ef­fi­cient tech­nol­ogy but also us­ing vir­tu­al­i­sa­tion tech­nol­ogy to en­sure servers are more ef­fi­ciently utilised. Baird says the clas­sic main­frame com­puter tends to run at 90% to 100% con­stantly while servers run­ning Unix are much less ef­fi­cient and Win­dows servers only av­er­age 10% to 20% util­i­sa­tion.

That said, it takes pretty much the same power to run a server at 10% as it does to run it at 90%. So by cre­at­ing lots of vir­tual servers it’s pos­si­ble to in­crease the avail­able com­put­ing power without in­stalling lots of new equip­ment.

Ben McDon­ald, client prod­ucts brand man­ager at Dell South Africa, says green IT is a mas­sive sub­ject and that en­ergy ef­fi­ciency is sim­ply one part of the equa­tion. “When you’re talk­ing about how en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly tech­nol­ogy is, you have to look not just at how much power it con­sumes but also the whole life­cy­cle of the prod­uct. By that we mean ev­ery­thing that goes into the man­u­fac­tur­ing, run­ning and dis­posal of the prod­uct.”

McDon­ald says as part of Dell’s drive to be the “green­est IT com­pany” it’s put a num­ber of ini­tia­tives in place to en­sure it com­plies with the stan­dards it’s put in place in­ter­nally and man­dated by laws world­wide. The most rel­e­vant piece of reg­u­la­tion is the re­duc­tion of haz­ardous sub­stances reg­u­la­tion (ROHS) im­ple­mented by the Euro­pean Union: com­pa­nies have to stop us­ing spe­cific sub­stances, such as lead and mer­cury, in the man­u­fac­ture and construction of their equip­ment.

MacDon­ald says that’s re­quired Dell to mon­i­tor all its sup­pli­ers and au­dit all its man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses to en­sure the end prod­uct com­plies with the rel­e­vant stan­dards.

At the end of a prod­uct’s life the is­sue of re­cy­cling be­comes just as im­por­tant and while some coun­tries leg­is­late that com­pa­nies take back and re­cy­cle their prod­ucts that’s not the case in SA. How­ever, McDon­ald says Dell of­fers its clients re­cy­cling for free but charges other or­gan­i­sa­tions for the ser­vice. That’s con­ducted on a cen­tralised ba­sis through­out the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

How­ever, if re­cy­cling IT equip­ment is to thrive in SA it will re­quire Gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion and the manda­tory re­cy­cling of prod­ucts. McDon­ald says the in­dus­try as a whole has been more proac­tive in driv­ing green tech­nol­ogy and is­sues about the “green­ness” of tech­nol­ogy are in­creas­ingly ap­pear­ing on tenders.

The need for aware­ness of the im­pact of the tech­nol­ogy we use has been made more acute by the power short­age is­sues SA is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. How­ever, com­pa­nies pay­ing for diesel to power standby gen­er­a­tors may re­sult in them be­com­ing more aware that elec­tric­ity isn’t sim­ply a mag­i­cal util­ity but re­quires the de­struc­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources to achieve it.

Con­duct an en­ergy as­sess­ment and use this to look for po­ten­tial sav­ings. Mau­reen Baird

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