Greener IT on campus

NWF   |   January 29, 2009

While good green citizens are fond of using email to
save trees, the widely-ignored fact is that those same emails take up
all kinds of server space. Space which, as Warren Arbogast points out in the latest episode of Tech Therapy,
isn't free, and requires a lot of electricity to run, maintain, and
cool. And when we're talking about massive research and data projects,
computing quickly sails to the front of the energy (and expense) line.

For example, the University of Michigan's computing is responsible for about 65 million pounds of
carbon emissions annually, costing about $4.8 million in electricity
bills, according to their own estimate in EDUCAUSE's white paper on the role of IT in sustainability.

So what's to be done?

Turning off computers at night is a good first step, but given that
some estimates put emissions from computing at the same level as the
aviation industry, much bigger steps are needed.

The key, says Arbogast, is to work systems-wide. All too often, the departments in charge of maintaining
those computers never see the energy costs, making it a non-priority.
When asked, he says, many IT staffers don't actually know how many
servers exist at their school. So in order to conserve energy and
save money, it's often necessary to get everyone in the same conversation: facilities managers, IT staff, department heads, and most importantly, whoever is in charge of the energy bill.

The University of
Michigan, mentioned above, set a 10-percent reduction goal of computing
energy consumption. According to the white paper, "the university is
one of a handful of institutions that have joined Intel and Google in
the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, which hopes to cut computer
energy consumption in half by 2010. The nonprofit alliance estimates
that reducing consumption this much could slash carbon emissions by 54
million tons a year." Assuming energy rates remain somewhat constant, a 10% cut in electricity usage could correlate to almost $500,000 saved just in electricity charges.

To get to that ambitious number, everything from consolidating servers to Energy Star monitors will be in play.

Making more efficient "supercomputers" is also crucial, if expensive, as we noted last fall. Several universities, including Purdue and UCSD, are testing data centers that conserve as much as 40% of electricity, and the University of Maine has one that can be powered by cyclists, if anyone is so inclined.