Dec 31 2009

2015 and Counting

Everybody likes the Earth. It’s hard not to because it’s the place that we all call home.

As we count down to 2015, the date set by the president’s executive order to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the federal government will take a closer look at how to curb its energy output and how technology figures into that goal.

As the single largest consumer of energy to power data centers in the United States, the government is in a unique position to drive eco-friendly initiatives, not only because of executive mandate but because the majority of these initiatives also reduce costs and spur efficient use of IT resources.

Here are a few opportune times that you can evaluate energy-efficient computing options:

When a product reaches its end of life. Most agencies upgrade computers and peripherals on a regular three- or four-year cycle. This is the time to break out the math on power consumption: notebooks versus desktops, LCD versus CRT monitors, and so forth.

Many agencies have already shifted to LCD monitors, which consume nearly 50 percent less energy on average than their CRT counterparts. Now the push is expanding to other areas, such as swapping out desktop computers for notebooks — a change that can reduce energy consumption by a third for some models — and installing routers that power down when inactive.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation currently covers monitors, desktops and notebooks, and other types of office equipment, and soon will include more computing equipment and servers found in data centers.

When they’re paired with other management initiatives. Upper management is driving a growing number of green initiatives in the private sector, says Richard Hodges, founder and CEO of GreenIT, a Sonoma, Calif., firm that provides advice on using environmentally sustainable information technology. Many organizations see value in positioning themselves as environmentally responsible, he says.

For example, as telecommuting becomes more commonplace, federal IT will necessarily shift to a greater use of notebook computers and mobile devices to support remote workers. A recent survey by CDW of employees and IT professionals in the private sector and federal government showed that 14 percent of businesses permit employees to telecommute, compared with 17 percent of agencies.

Aided by the desire to support work/life balance and reduce the time employees spend traveling to their jobs, agencies remain strong advocates of remote work; 56 percent of federal IT professionals surveyed say their agencies provide IT support for teleworkers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if a federal worker commutes to work just two days per week, skipping that round trip in a car can reduce emissions by 1,600 pounds per year.

When they make I.T. more efficient. The IT team always must make a strong business case for new technology initiatives — green or not.

Take virtualization as a case in point. Although there are initial up-front expenses, particularly for new hardware, the ability to capture system snapshots for better disaster recovery and system redundancy, and to simplify system reboots, helps to bolster the argument that fewer servers equals reduced power consumption.

At the National Renewable Energy Lab, ad hoc server development contributed to one-application-per-box creep and a sprawling 250-strong server empire. With virtualization, the lab will provide the same computing resources to end users but rely on just 30 servers. Read about the lab’s data center consolidation and greening efforts in the cover feature, “By Design.”

Luckily, when it comes to green IT, you don’t have to make a choice between being eco-friendly or efficient.

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Lee Copeland

Editor in Chief

Photo: Orlando Copeland