A Book Review: “Green IT”

The book Green IT: Reduce Your Information System’s Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line by Velte, Velte, and Elsenpeter is extremely interesting. Unlike some other books that might go in this direction, this is not a book of theory, nor of political change, nor of persuasion. This is a book for IT staff about how to create a “green” data center and more.

Because of the nature of IT, going “green” can mostly be summed up in one word: electricity. A vast amount of what makes an IT department “green” consists of using less electricity wherever possible. This includes such areas as the corporate data center, the corporate desktops, and much more.

However, the book also gives significant attention to the other big environmental impact of computing: paper. There are a lot of ways to reduce paper use, and this book seems to cover all of them.

The book is in five parts: part I explains why to implement conservation in IT; part II talks about consumption; part III discusses what we as IT users can do individually to help the environment; part IV covers several corporate case studies; and part V expounds on the process of becoming “green” and how to stay that way.

It would have been nice to see more information about how the authors exemplified their suggestions during the creation of the book. The only hint of any environmentally sound practices is the recycled paper logo on the back cover (100% post-consumer fiber). That leaves more questions: did they use thin clients? Did they work from home? Did they use soy ink? Perhaps lastly, where is the e-book?

There is a web site that is set up for the book, but the current breadth of the site is disappointingly anemic. Some of the best web sites for Green IT would be Dell Earth, Intel, as well as IBM’s Green IT and Energy, the Environment, and IBM web sites.

It was interesting to note that HP’s Eco Solutions web site is “heavy” compared to the others – that is, it requires much more processing power to display, and requires a lot more time to download – which translates into more power consumption to view the web site. In addition, IBM and HP are the #1 and #2 in Computerworld’s list of Top Green-IT Vendors – whereas Dell is #6… HP also topped Newsweek’s 2009 list of Greenest Big Companies in America (along with IBM, Intel, and Dell in the top 5).

System Administration and the Environment

Today is Blog Action Day, and the focus is on the environment. What does this mean to a system administrator who works with computers in the data center all day?

Lots. There are at least two areas where you can help daily: data center electricity use, and paper use.

Data Center Electrical Use

The data center is becoming responsible for an ever increasing amount of electricity use, and generators are already maxed out in many locations in the country. Electricity generation often relies on coal or fossil fuels or perhaps nuclear generation, all of which pose risks of one sort or another. Electricity generation spews pollution into the air, and degrades our air quality.

Reducing electricity usage in the data center will not only reduce the need for electricity, it can also reduce your corporate electric bill.

There are many ways to do this. One is to use virtual servers wherever possible and practical. Virtual servers can be added to a machine with no increase in electrical use, and with other improvements as well. Virtual servers can simplify maintenance, restoration, and more.

Another way is to get rid of old (or very old) systems and replace them with something more current. At one company I worked for, an IBM System 36 was replaced by an AS/400 Advanced 36 – and the electric cost savings were tremendous. Older systems take more power than the newer replacements, as new power-saving technology is introduced.

The technology industry has an initiative called The Green Grid to help foster reduction in data center electricity use as well. Intel Corporation has an initiative of their own, as well as being partners with Google in the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. Dell Computer Corporation has an extensive environmental program designed to help the company be environmentally conscious on all levels. The chip-maker AMD is also pushing its energy-efficiency program to help reduce data center energy use.

In fact, AMD sponsored a study by Jonathan Koomey, a professor at Stanford and a scientist from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) which studied extensively power use by data centers. InformationWeek reported on this study. Koomey has been actively studying power usage for some time; a previous study was reported on by Science@Berkely Lab Magazine sometime in 2001 or 2002.

On Dec. 6, 2006, SiliconValley.com reported (from an article by Sarah Jane Tribble of the Mercury News) on a meeting between many of the technology companies (such as IBM, Cisco, SGI, Google, Sun Microsystems, HP) and the federal government focused on what they called “the upcoming energy crisis” driven by IT energy consumption.

Paper

Paper, while being a renewable resource, is taking its toll on the trees that exist on our planet (along with the need for lumber world-wide). The biggest problem is that trees are being consumed faster than they can be regenerated – trees take many years to grow, and only minutes to take down.

Another problem with standard white paper (as is used in the office) is that actual paper production is a very messy and chemically intensive process – the bleaching of the paper (making it white instead of the generic brown or tan) is the worst. With the most irresponsible companies, the chemical results may go back into the river; others will put the chemicals into barrels and store it somewhere.

Reducing paper usage by not printing, and using recycled paper will help preserve the forests of America and of the world.

….and of the Industry….

While the individual system administrator won’t be able to do much about this, the computer industry is a new source of pollution that hasn’t gone noticed very much – in particular, chip manufacturing. The chemical remains from chip manufacturing are positively horrendous and quite caustic – a well-known portion of the manufacturing process requires the use of an etchant which etches away portions of metal or other products to leave the traces in the chip or circuit board. However, chip manufacturers are taking note and making changes to become less polluting.