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Carbon catch

Carbon catch

How enterprises are using the downturn to see where green initiatives can be utilised to best effect.

The pressure for sustainability initiatives in computing — saving energy and dealing more sensitively with potentially polluting disposal of ICT-related waste and old equipment — was beginning to become significant last year. Then along came the international recession to put further cost-cutting pressures on the typical business and its ICT services.

In some ways, green initiatives and recession plans represent a move in the same direction; doing more with less is a message common to both. Some companies already utilising green policies, such as better design of datacentre air-conditioning, have found marked cost-savings that improved their fortunes in financially hard times.

On the other hand, two sets of restrictive measures may be too much to bear concurrently for some organisations. Green initiatives, while money-saving in the long term, do demand expenditure upfront, which might now be less practical than in financially safer times.

A number of organisations are moving to use of older computing equipment for a longer lifespan as an expenditure-trimming measure. Given that many vendors have designed their newer hardware to use less power and be otherwise kinder to the environment, anti-recessionary measures could work against green initiatives.

Analysts’ studies show a mixed picture. A worldwide study conducted by Forrester in April this year asked the key question: “What impact, if any, does the recession have on your organisation’s green IT initiatives?”

Eleven percent of the 855 respondents over all industry sectors say they had already slowed or intended to slow the move to IT sustainability, but 12 percent say they will accelerate their “green IT initiatives”.

However, both are small in comparison with the 38 percent who say they intend to maintain the current pace of their drive to sustainability (which could be fast or slow) and the 40 percent who replied “it’s too early to know”.

The retail and wholesale sector appear most in favour of green initiatives as a recession fighter, according to Forrester, with 22 percent accelerating the green drive and only 7 percent slowing it under recessionary pressure.

The business services sector shows an opposing trend, with 12 percent speeding up and 14 percent slowing down.

Another analyst, Gartner, sees some short-term hope for avoiding expensive sustainability initiatives. “There are many ‘quick wins’ for those who are starting out on this journey and, although there may be investments needed for some of the longer-term initiatives in developing more sustainable systems, they are ultimately designed to generate overall cost savings,” says Andrea DeMaio, author of a Gartner report “Is There Anything Greener Than The Dollar?”

The report examines the sustainability/recession trade-off and concludes the motivation for sustainability measures depends on whether the recession will be long-term (L-shaped) or short-term (U-shaped) and on how much stimulus governments give to sustainability measures through grants of research-and-development tax concessions.

In a long recession with no stimulus, it is possible that environmentally unfriendly measures will be taken to save jobs and any sustainability initiatives will be undertaken for cost containment. Public financial incentives may produce more innovative moves, but there appears nothing likely from the New Zealand government outside home insulation on the one hand and support of longer-term R&D on the other.

With a shorter-term recession likely — and the mood in New Zealand industry has recently been more optimistic — green IT could become an important competitive differentiator, Gartner says.

With the addition of government stimulus there is “a chance for leading edge enterprises to lead and thrive in new markets”, says Gartner.

As well as directly trimming the cost and wastefulness of its own operations, ICT can, of course, be deployed to great effect to reduce the environmental effect of business operations within the organisation and service to the customer. Intelligent use of ICT can do much, for example, to improve the efficiency of the supply chain, says Gartner. Effective digital communications through, for example, teleconferencing and videoconferencing, as well as simple email, has a potentially major effect on the need for travel and physical mail.

Changing the paper mindset

A focus on printing is potentially a quick win both in the progress towards sustainability and in simple financial economy. Sometimes just changing the location of printers can reduce wasteful use. The days of senior people and power users insisting on their own a small desk-side printer-scanner are passing. A user who has to walk to the end of a corridor to collect printer output will think twice about having the document printed.

NZ Steel rationalised its printing fleet in stages between 2007 and this year with the main aims of achieving greater control and greater standardisation. Sustainability benefits have proved an unexpected extra.

With the aid of HP, its printer supplier, the company reduced its printer population by about 40 percent and brought printing under tighter management, improving utilisation. But the change also identified some printing jobs that were not necessary at all.

“One of the benefits that we didn’t anticipate is the savings that we’ve made by being able to scan documents and save them to a folder or email them directly,” says information systems technical manager Brian Reay. “We do a lot of project work and previously engineers would print out up to 20 copies of a document for the project team – now they just scan and save it, and point everyone towards the folder to read the document.” The cost and environmental savings of not having to print documents as often were immediate.

“The scanning function has also helped us to easily manage our accounts and finances with our accounts payable department in Adelaide,” he says. “Before, we would print and post invoices but now we can just scan and send them via email. As well as saving paper, we don’t have to keep a copy to ensure that it arrives safely – the proof of delivery is in the email.

NZ Steel has also adopted “pull printing” or “follow me” technology in some high-use areas. Pull printing enables the system to store a job and only print it when the employee enters a PIN code into the nearest device. From an environmental perspective, this reduces paper and toner wastage as uncollected jobs are never printed,” Reay says.

“Centralised management has allowed over and under-used devices to be readily identified so that the appropriate device can be re-positioned as usage dictates,” says NZ Steel external affairs officer Vicki Woodley.

Automatically implemented policies recommend double-sided printing and draft printing where appropriate, saving on paper and toner.

“There have been two user surveys, in 2007 and 2009 and no significant problems were identified,” Woodley says. “Reliability and print quality were highly rated.” Like many organisations, NZ Steel employs virtualisation as another measure assisting efficient use of hardware and therefore the sustainability drive.

There are currently 55 virtual servers on six physical VMware HP servers, Woodley says. “This has resulted in depopulation of server racks (30+ servers have been decommissioned), lower power and cooling requirements etc, coupled with higher availability and disaster recovery readiness. We will add more than 10 additional servers to the current virtual environments over the next few months.”

Old PCs and laptops are recycled where possible. Laptops have been sent to hospitals and local schools take data-cleansed PCs. Those units that are too old to redeploy this way are returned to Dell or HP for recycling through their programmes.

Taming the power hungry

Many companies have sought to trim expenses and discreetly shift the carbon burden onto someone else by moving their processing to a remote datacentre. Recent years have seen a resurgence of the “utility” computing model, where a number of clients efficiently use the same large machine and the same support staff at a distant datacentre.

There has been a rush into the business. Hardware suppliers wanting to rebrand themselves as offering datacentre services may skimp on the job and render the overall situation worse from an overall sustainability point of view, as well as introducing vulnerabilities.

Properly set up utility computing genuinely works towards sustainability, by consolidating several organisations’ carbon footprints into one smaller footprint, says Robin Cockayne, general manager of business development at utility computing provider Revera.

But green computing is bigger than new technology alone. Some new technologies such as blade computing introduce potential problems of their own.

Green computing requires new data centre architecture, says Cockayne. Revera has developed a “pod” design known as a Type R enclosure (R for responsibility, the company says). This more precisely manages cooling by forcing pressurised cold air through the front of server racks, at the appropriate speed. The conventional method uses cold air flowing upward from the floor sucked through the hot computers and out to air handlers.

Green by design

When freight company DHL Global Forwarding opened its new Auckland building earlier this year, it placed some emphasis on its sustainability credentials. The building is certified for good environmental management under the International Standards Organisation’s 14001 standard, says national compliance manager Anand Datar.

Overall, the move has resulted in material economies in ICT. IT demand manager Ray LeCheminant says that as a result of re-equipping for new premises, DHL has been able to acquire later models of most ICT hardware.

“We ensured we used the latest-model servers SANs, tape drives and wireless equipment,” which have low power consumption compared with the versions used in the company’s old premises, he says. The servers (with the exception of one brought over from the old building) are “more power efficient, but I can’t quote you a figure saying we save so-many kilowatt-hours, or we’re so-many percent more efficient,” LeCheminant says.

Much of the hardware has been built with more recyclable components, so eventual disposal will be less damaging to the environment.

A particularly important saving is on paper. “We’ve adopted default duplex printing [using both sides of the paper]. We send invoices and waybills out to our clients as PDF files,” making further paper savings. Previously, such documents were printed out to hard-copy by default and if the customer wanted a digital version of the document delivered online, the paper was re-scanned.

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