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Green Computing
Harnessing Green
IT: Principles and
Practices
San Murugesan
Adopting a holistic approach to greening IT is our responsibility toward
creating a more sustaining environment.
E
nterprises, governments, and societies at
large have a new important agenda: tackling environmental issues and adopting
environmentally sound practices. Over
the years, the use of IT has exploded in several
areas, improving our lives and work and offering
convenience along with several other benefits.
We are passionate about
advances in and widespread
adoption of IT. However, IT
has been contributing to enGreening Unwanted
vironmental problems, which
Computers: The Three Rs
most people don’t realize.
Computers and other IT inGreen IT Standards and
frastructure consume signifiRegulations
cant amounts of electricity,
Green IT Resources
placing a heavy burden on our
electric grids and contribut-
Inside
24
IT Pro January/February 2008
ing to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally,
IT hardware poses severe environmental problems both during its production and its disposal. IT is a significant and growing part of the
environmental problems we face today. We are
obliged to minimize or eliminate where possible
the environmental impact of IT to help create a
more sustainable environment.
To reduce IT’s environmental problems and
to create a sustainable environment, we call
upon the IT sector as well as every computer
user to green their IT systems, as well as the way
they use these systems. We are legally, ethically,
and socially required to green our IT products,
applications, services, and practices. Green IT
benefits the environment by improving energy
efficiency, lowering greenhouse gas emissions,
using less harmful materials, and encouraging
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
1520-9209/08/$25.00 © 2008 IEEE
reuse and recycling. Factors such as environmental legislation, the rising cost of waste disposal, corporate images, and public perception
give further impetus to the green IT initiative.
Green IT is a hot topic today and will continue to be an important issue for several years
to come. To foster green IT, we should understand: What are the key environmental impacts
arising from IT? What are the major environmental IT issues that we must address? How
can we make our IT infrastructure, products,
services, operations, applications, and practices
environmentally sound? What are the regulations or standards with which we need to comply? How can IT assist businesses and society
at large in their efforts to improve our environmental sustainability?
In this article, we address these questions
and examine related issues. We then present a
holistic approach to greening IT. Additionally,
we propose a green IT strategy for enterprises
and outline specific ways to minimize IT’s environmental impact.
Environmental Issues and Problems
The growing accumulation of greenhouse
gases is changing the world’s climate and weather patterns, creating droughts in some countries
and floods in others. It’s slowly pushing global
temperatures higher, posing serious problems
to the world (see http://egj.lib.uidaho.edu/index.
php/egj/article/view/3205/3175). For instance,
2005 was the warmest year on record, and the
10 warmest years have all occurred since 1980.
Global data shows that storms, droughts, and
other weather-related disasters are growing
more severe and more frequent.
To stop the accumulation of greenhouse gases
in the atmosphere, global emissions would have
to stop growing. Electricity is a major cause of
climate change, because the coal or oil that helps
generate electricity also releases carbon dioxide, pollutants, and sulfur into the atmosphere.
These emissions can cause respiratory disease,
smog, acid rain, and global climate change. Reducing electric power consumption is a key to
reducing carbon dioxide emissions and their impact on our environment and global warming.
With this in mind, let’s focus on what each of
us—as IT professionals, members of the IT industry, and IT users—can do individually and
collectively to create a sustainable environment.
Let’s examine IT’s environmental impact and
consider green IT measures that we can adopt.
IT’s environmental impact
IT affects our environment in several different ways. Each stage of a computer’s life, from
its production, throughout its use, and into its
disposal, presents environmental problems.
Manufacturing computers and their various electronic and non-electronic components consumes electricity, raw materials,
chemicals, and water, and generates hazardous waste. All these directly or indirectly increase carbon dioxide emissions and impact
the environment.
Each PC in use generates
about a ton of carbon
dioxide every year.
The total electrical energy consumption by
servers, computers, monitors, data communications equipment, and cooling systems for
data centers is steadily increasing. This increase in energy consumption results in increased greenhouse gas emissions. Each PC
in use generates about a ton of carbon dioxide
every year.
Computer components contain toxic materials. Increasingly, consumers discard a large
number of old computers, monitors, and other
electronic equipment two to three years after
purchase, and most of this ends up in landfills,
polluting the earth and contaminating water.
The increased number of computers and their
use, along with their frequent replacements,
make the environmental impact of IT a major concern. Consequently, there is increasing
pressure on us—the IT industry, businesses,
and individuals—to make IT environmentally
friendly throughout its lifecycle, from birth to
death to rebirth. As many believe, it’s our social and corporate responsibility to safeguard
our environment.
Green IT
Green IT refers to environmentally sound IT.
It’s the study and practice of designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers,
servers, and associated subsystems—such as
January/February 2008 IT Pro 
25
Green Computing
Reduce power consumption
75%
Lower costs
73%
Lower carbon emissions
and environmental impact
56%
vironmentally sustainable IT is the key to
future success.
Benefits of greening IT
Environmental issues impact IT busi55%
ness’ competitive landscape in new ways,
and enterprises with the technology and
47%
Space savings
vision to provide products and services
that address environmental issues will en0%
25%
50%
75%
100%
joy a competitive edge. For example, when
making purchasing, leasing, or outsourc1 Reasons and benefits for using green IT practices.
ing decisions, many customers now consider the service providers’ environmental
monitors, printers, storage devices, and netrecords and initiatives. Businesses face
working and communications systems—effihigher energy costs, and they may also incur adciently and effectively with minimal or no impact
ditional government levies if they don’t address
on the environment. Green IT also strives to
the environmental implications of their pracachieve economic viability and improved systices. Investors and consumers are beginning to
tem performance and use, while abiding by our
demand more disclosures from companies with
social and ethical responsibilities.
regard to their carbon footprint as well as their
Thus, green IT includes the dimensions of
environmental initiatives and achievements, and
environmental sustainability, the economics of
they have started discounting share prices of
energy efficiency, and the total cost of ownercompanies that poorly address the environmenship, which includes the cost of disposal and
tal problems they create. As a result, many busirecycling.
nesses have begun showing their environmental
Green IT spans a number of focus areas and
credentials. For instance, the Carbon Disclosure
activities, including
Project (www.cdproject.net) is a recent initiative
to petition global companies to disclose their
• design for environmental sustainability;
carbon emissions.
• energy-efficient computing;
Adopting green IT practices offers business• power management;
es and individuals financial and other benefits.
• data center design, layout, and location;
IT operations achieve better energy efficiency
• server virtualization;
through green initiatives, which financially
• responsible disposal and recycling;
benefit them, especially when electrical en• regulatory compliance;
ergy is at a premium and energy prices are
• green metrics, assessment tools, and
rising. In a survey by Sun Microsystems Ausmethodology;
tralia (see http://au.sun.com/edge/2007-07/eco.
• environment-related risk mitigation;
jsp?cid=920710) involving 1,500 responses from
• use of renewable energy sources; and
758 large and small organizations in Australia
• eco-labeling of IT products.
and New Zealand, respondents said reducing
power consumption and lowering costs are the
A growing number of IT vendors and users
major reasons for using eco-responsible pracare moving toward green IT and thereby assisttices, followed by a lower environmental impact
ing in building a green society and economy.
and improved system use (see Figure 1).
When consumers are faced with more green
Most companies are bound to prioritize
taxes and regulations, they will favor green IT
environmental issues for environmental,
solutions. However, to build a greener environenergy-efficiency, and cost-control imperament, we must modify or abolish many old and
tives. As concerns, regulations, and marketfamiliar ways of doing things and discover new
based mechanisms to address climate change
methods. Fortunately, the IT industry is interrise, businesses will focus on environmental
ested in handling IT’s environmental issues and
sustainability. Corporate and institutionpursuing new opportunities. Innovations in enal buyers are asking their suppliers to take
Improved systems
performance and use
26
IT Pro January/February 2008
Green use
of IT systems
measures to “green up” their products
and their manufacturing processes. For
instance, companies such as Dell and
Wal-Mart are adopting initiatives that
force their suppliers to adhere to environmentally sound practices.
People have begun to value the environmentally friendly attributes of IT, and in the
next five years, green IT will become a common feature. Companies will offer a range
of new green products and services, and
new business opportunities will emerge.
Green manufacturing
of IT systems
Green IT
Green design
of IT systems
Green disposal
of IT systems
2 Holistic approach to green IT.
A Holistic Approach to Green IT
To comprehensively and effectively address the environmental impacts of IT, we
must adopt a holistic approach that addresses the problems along the following
four complementary paths (see Figure 2):
Green design
Green manufacturing
of computers
Use
reprocessed
material
Reuse parts
• Green use. Reduce the energy consumpRecycle, reprocess
Refurbish,
Redeploy,
materials
upgrade
reuse
tion of computers and other information systems and use them in an
environmentally sound manner.
Use computers
Dispose
• Green disposal. Refurbish and reuse old
judiciously
computers and properly recycle unwanted computers and other electronic
Donate
equipment.
• Green design. Design energy efficient
and environmentally sound components, computers, servers, and cooling 3 Green a computer’s entire lifecycle.
equipment.
• Green manufacturing. Manufacture electronic
tion by making small changes to the ways we use
components, computers, and other associcomputers. Most personal desktop computers
ated subsystems with minimal or no impact
run even when they aren’t being used, because
on the environment.
users needlessly leave them on, wasting electricity. Furthermore, computers generate heat and
By focusing our efforts on these four fronts,
require additional cooling, which adds to the
we can achieve total environmental sustaintotal power consumption and cost for the enability from the IT side and make IT greener
terprise. While the savings in energy costs per
throughout its entire lifecycle (see Figure 3).1
PC may not seem like much, the combined savNext, let’s explore these measures.
ings for hundreds of computers in an enterprise
is considerable. We can reduce PC energy conUsing IT:
sumption by adopting several measures.
Environmentally Sound Practices
A key green objective in using computer systems and operating data centers is to reduce
their energy consumption, thereby minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing energy consumption by PCs
We can significantly reduce energy consump-
Enabling power management features.
Without sacrificing performance, we can program computers to automatically power down
to an energy-saving state when we aren’t using
them. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that providing computers
with a sleep mode reduces their energy use by
January/February 2008 IT Pro 
27
Green Computing
60–70 percent (see http://ecenter.colorado.edu/
energy/projects/green_computing.html).
Because PC use is widespread across any given organization, it’s difficult for the IT staff to
manage their enterprise’s PC power consumption. In this case, a pragmatic approach is to
use software such as Surveyor from Verdiem
(www.verdiem.com) that offers network-level
control over PCs and monitors. The software
places the PC into a lower-power consumption mode, such as shutdown, hibernation, or
standby, and monitors into a sleep mode when
they aren’t being used. It also measures and reports how much power each PC and monitor
consumes. Network managers can remotely
awake the PCs for software upgrades, maintenance, or backup.
Turning off the system when not in use.
This is the most basic energy conservation
strategy for most systems. Many people believe the misconception that a computer’s life
is shortened by turning it on and off, so they
leave their computers on all the time. The
electronic equipment’s life span depends on
its cumulative operational time and its temperature. Turning it off reduces both of these
factors, increasing the life of the equipment.
Manufacturers protect personal computers’
internal circuitry from power damage from
on/off switching, and they design modern
hard drives to operate reliably for thousands
of on/off cycles. Therefore, users actually
benefit from turning off their systems when
they aren’t using them.
Some people are reluctant to switch their
computers on and off a couple of times during
their workday, because they don’t want to wait a
minute or two until the system is ready for use.
However, the energy savings are well worth the
inconvenience of waiting a short time for a computer to reboot or a peripheral to come online.
Using screensavers. A blank screensaver
conserves more power than a screensaver that
displays moving images, which continually interacts with the CPU. But even that reduces the
monitor’s energy consumption by only a small
percentage.
Using thin-client computers. Users can
choose to employ thin-client computers,
28
IT Pro January/February 2008
which draw about a fifth of the power of a
desktop PC.
These measures, though easily adoptable,
wouldn’t become a practical reality without users’
wholehearted willingness and active participation. To make these efforts a success, enterprises
must educate their employees to save energy by
changing their computer habits. Enterprises must
seek their employees’ feedback, address their
concerns, and encourage them to join in green
computing efforts.
Greening data centers
The continued rise of Internet and Web applications is driving the rapid growth of data
centers. Enterprises are installing more servers or expanding their capacity. The number of
server computers in data centers has increased
sixfold to 30 million in the last decade, and
each server draws far more electricity than earlier models. Aggregate electricity use for servers
doubled between 2000 and 2005, most of which
came from businesses installing large numbers
of new servers.2 With energy prices increasing
worldwide, the operational cost of data centers
continues to increase steadily. Besides the cost,
availability of electrical power is becoming a
critical issue for many companies whose data
centers have expanded steadily. The social, financial, and practical constraints involved will
force businesses and IT departments to reduce
energy consumption by data centers.
We can improve data center efficiency by using new energy-efficient equipment, improving airflow management to reduce cooling
requirements, investing in energy management software, and adopting environmentally
friendly designs for data centers and new measures to curb data centers’ energy consumption. According to a recent purchasing survey
(see http://searchdatacenter.techtarget.com/
originalContent/0,289142,sid80_gci1264212,00.
html):
• more than 50 percent of data center professionals who responded to the survey said
they have saved energy through server virtualization;
• 32 percent have made efforts to improve underfloor air-conditioning efficiency;
• 17.5 percent have implemented power-down
features on servers not in use;
• 11 percent have tried DC power in the data
center; and
• only 7.7 percent have tried liquid cooling for
increased data center cooling efficiency.
Though liquid is several hundred times
more efficient than air for cooling hot servers, customers are nonetheless unwilling to
use liquid cooling, perhaps because of the
complexities involved with it. However, if
the high-density computing infrastructure
requires liquid cooling, data center managers may have to adapt to it and deal with the
complexities involved.
In a survey by Sun Microsystems Australia,
80 percent of respondents said they would use
energy-efficient technologies, 63 percent said
they would use power and cooling solutions,
and 60 percent said they would use system virtualization (see http://au.sun.com/edge/200707/eco.jsp?cid=920710).
In the following paragraphs, we outline
three broad measures to greening data centers: energy conservation, eco-friendly design,
and server virtualization.
Energy conservation. Energy costs now
account for nearly 30 percent of a data center’s
operating expenses (see http:/news.zdnet.co.uk/
itmanagement/0,1000000308,39284324,00.
htm), a significant amount of which is spent
on cooling. The IT industry is inventing new ways
to help address this issue. For example, companies
like IBM, Hewlett Packard, SprayCool, and Cooligy
are working on technologies such as liquid cooling, nano fluid-cooling systems, and in-server, inrack, and in-row cooling. Other innovative ways
of making a data center more environmentally
friendly include using new high-density servers,
using hydrogen fuel cells as alternative green power sources, and applying virtualization technologies that reduce the total power consumption of
servers and lower the heat generated.
Old mainframe computers are bulky power hogs that demand a lot of cooling. Hence,
major IT vendors are addressing these problems by assisting their customers in migrating
applications from mainframes to servers.
Eco-friendly design. Eco-friendly data center designs use a synthetic white rubber roof,
paint, and carpet that contain a low volatile
organic compound (VOC), countertops made
of recycled products, and energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems at optimal efficiency. Eco-designs make use of natural light
as well as green power—electricity generated
from solar or wind energy—to run the data
center. Enterprises that adopt eco-friendly designs can get tax incentives and gain a competitive advantage, as more and more customers
want to work with eco-friendly firms.
While building a new data center provides
complete design control, IT professionals can
take measures to reduce heat, add light, and
discard materials that contain toxic chemicals
in existing dat …
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