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The common sense of lean and green IT

In January 2008, the price of oil hit $100 a barrel for the first time. By May, the first forecast of oil at $200 a barrel had been made44. By year-end 2008 companies that had appeared to be exemplars of caution by hedging oil at over $100 now seem short-sighted.

The sudden change in outlook, within just five months, underlines the volatility that remains in the price of energy45. Furthermore, volatility in supply continues, particularly as alternative sources of energy, from biofuels to solar, remain uncertain and geopolitical directions appear unpredictable46.

The imperative for companies to take control of their power consumption, for technology and more generally, therefore remains acute. In 2009, of the power management tools available, one of the most powerful may still be simple, plain, common sense. Some of the biggest saps on power this year are likely to remain ill-conceived planning and poor co-ordination and execution47.

In 2009, the aggregate volume of the world's data centers is likely to continue to grow, albeit possibly at a slower pace than in previous years. The efficiency of data centers is, however, likely to vary considerably. The latest, purpose-built data-centers should attain a power-unit effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.2 or better48. A typical enterprise data-center is likely to achieve a PUE of 2.0 or worse49.

There are still many data centers located in buildings that were originally designed to house people. Here, assumptions, such as the rate at which air needs to be refreshed, were made for people (typically three times an hour), not machines (typically once an hour). This is leading to a waste of energy in buildings that house only machines. In some data centers in winter 2009, heating may still be programmed to temperatures suitable for humans, only for dedicated air-conditioning units, deployed for the data center, to cool them down again.

Another trait common to some data centers may be to cool all equipment to a uniform temperature, although not all devices require the same degree of coolness.

In 2009, there are still likely to be offices with banks of desktop computers that are left on at all times, despite the significant cost savings that could be available, if they were to be turned off during non-office hours.

The good news is that there may well be plenty of straightforward options still available that can deliver quick reductions in power usage, rapid returns on investment and may not require significant new spending.

Bottom line

Companies should not get complacent about the price and availability of oil50. The outlook for energy, in terms of supply and price, remains uncertain.

Organizations should consider as many options as possible for reducing energy.

Ready savings may still be available at data centers, which have become a significant IT facility at most enterprises. A first step would be to consider a data center as a collection of facilities, each of which has different working tolerances. A common sense approach would be to compartmentalize the data center, based on temperature requirements. A difference of just one degree could have a significant impact on the cost of cooling51. The installation of simple, flexible partitions, of the type used to separate cool stores in supermarkets, may provide sufficient insulation. A company could also replace existing equipment with more heat-tolerant substitutes.

Other simple tweaks and changes could lead to significant improvements. Analyzing any forms of power loss, for example by assessing the efficacy of a building's universal power supply, could reveal significant but easily remediable problems. An underperforming power supply could leak over 10 percent of power before it even entered the building52.

Undertaking thermal scans of air-cooling units could reveal their ineffectiveness, simply due to vents being poorly positioned, through air being directed at the wrong end of equipment, or through cool air being extracted before it reached its target destination.

Companies should also evaluate whether outsourcing data centers makes better sense. Data centers are likely to improve their efficiency steadily. Given this it may make more sense to tap into the latest technology available in the most modern, most efficient outsourced data centers.

The optimal approach, however, may well be to change the underlying ethos of data centers, capping their size rather than assuming their inexorable expansion.

Energy consumption for IT should be linked to the overall approach to energy for a company. At present IT budgets are not linked to facilities management bills. Therefore, the IT budget is not currently affected by its power consumption53.

All departments can have a role to play in making technology more efficient. Human resources could provide a structure to provide incentives for staff to use technology more efficiently. At a basic level this would include requiring staff to turn off technology at the end of the day. Workers could also be encouraged to provide ideas on how technology energy consumption could be lowered, with the best ideas being rewarded by a share of the savings.


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Making every electron count: the rise of the SmartGrid
Downsizing the digital attic

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