Low carbon diet

Low carbon diet

There's much to do and CIOs will come under scrutiny in the race to reduce ICT energy consumption. Here is a list of excuses and efficiencies to expect next.

Global Action Plan's December 2007 survey, An Inefficient Truth, revealed Britain's information and communications technology (ICT) sector has a carbon footprint similar to the aviation industry. Its skyrocketing growth means it will soon surpass the poster child for climate change. On a per capita basis, Australia is one of the bigger players in the greenhouse gases emission stakes. In fact, based on 2000 data compiled by the World Resources Institute, Australia lies fifth in the country rankings for annual greenhouse gas emissions per capita.

Global Action Plan also reported that 86 per cent of ICT departments surveyed don't know the carbon footprint of their activities, and less than half see their energy bills.

There is no reason to suggest that Australian ICT departments are any more knowledgeable. A recent survey conducted by Fairfax Business Research (see page 10) found the vast majority (73 per cent) of Australian organisations have no targets in place to reduce carbon emissions in the next three years.

Given that the ICT department's carbon footprint is approaching that of the aviation sector, chief information officers will increasingly come under pressure to reduce ICT's energy consumption and carbon footprint as governments and corporate boards seek to meet carbon-cutting commitments.

On the downside of all this we will see plenty of the following:

* More green wash. IT manufacturers and vendors will continue to promote their products as "green", particularly in the energy saving space. Such claims may gild the lily and need a cynical assessment.

* Green window dressing. Some large IT shops will trumpet comparatively modest environmental actions (for example, recycling paper) while taking no action in the disruptive areas such as the energy consumption associated with their data centre's power and cooling demands.

* Foreign sourcing. Those wanting to hide problems will consider sourcing their operations to regions or countries where energy costs are lower and/or environmental controls are less stringent.

It is not all smoke and mirrors, however, and on the upside we are likely to see:

* Increase in board focus on energy. Many organisations have no idea of the energy consumption of their IT. At the same time, they know their energy bills will be increasing dramatically as capacity demands rise and energy rates soar. This will increase board level green expectations of the CIO.

* A focus on power monitoring at the unit level. Energy and data management will become intertwined as power-hungry data centres prove more expensive to run.

* Data centre energy consumption benchmarking. There are few benchmarking tools to determine energy consumption of data centres and those available are not very sophisticated. This year will see vendors enhancing and/or releasing applications to address this gap.

* Energy savings, but not as great as projected. Many organisations will get their sums wrong on this. Initial estimates of energy savings will fail to take into account a quirk of human nature called the "rebound effect". Improving energy efficiency initially reduces energy consumption but in the longer term these savings are eroded by encouraging new energy uses.

* Data restructuring. IT practice is bogged down by the need to store outdated or redundant data and poor allocation of server functions. Data centre space limitations will drive IT managers to "re-

architect" their data processing and storage operations so that they can do more with less space and save energy.

* A changed economic lifecycle replacement model. The costs of powering and cooling data centres is starting to exceed the cost of devices, so there is a growing argument for reducing the age for disposing of end-of-life ICT equipment.

* Greener expectations. Companies will start looking at their vendors' and suppliers' practices more closely and the latter will have to demonstrate their green commitment.

So what does all this mean? CIOs still need to work out what they should be doing.

A smart CIO will do at least some of the following:

* Anticipate high-level interest in ICT's total energy consumption and costs and set in place policies and procedures to regularly monitor and manage these.

* Implement thin client workstations, when there are green and financial benefits.

* Have the CXO suite commit to and fund the development of an organisation-wide "Green IT" strategy.

* Continue to raise green awareness by encouraging "small" steps, such as promoting the three "Rs" (recycling, reducing consumption, and re-using resources).

* Support flexible options, such as home or remote working, to minimise commuting.

* Make video-conferencing work as an alternative to travelling to meetings.

* Get staff to identify and implement green IT initiatives.

Wellington-based Colin Boswell works with Intelligent Business Research Services.

© Fairfax Business Media

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