Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Tips and advice on "going green" in IT for mid-sized companies

Faced with the phenomenon of global warming heralding dramatic climate change, business has come under pressure to "go green". Mid-sized companies are impacted as much as the large corporations but have more limited resources to deal with the problem. As major energy consumers, the Information Technology management have a key contribution to make in the fight against global warming. Many CIOs may be alarmed at how to improve their ecological footprint, but the good news is that going green can result in significant cost savings.

IT represents a significant cost to any business. It may come as some surprise to learn that almost 48% of IT spending is consumed by energy demands. The US Department of Energy reports that almost 13% of commercial energy usage originates from IT. Desktop computers in the US and Europe consume an estimated seven gigawatts of power every day.

Power consumption is not the only concern of IT departments. Computer hardware contains hazardous materials that include barium, beryllium, phosphorous, mercury, cadmium and lead. Disposal of computer equipment poses an ever increasing threat to the environment.

Computer peripherals such as printers pose additional problems in the disposal of spent toner and ink cartridges and excessive use of paper for daily reports.

For a mid-sized business looking for ways to "go green" there are a number of imperatives:

  • The cost of the venture

  • The resources required

  • The size of the investment

But going green may achieve some major benefits:

  • Significant cost savings

  • An improved environment for management and staff

  • Higher productivity

  • Less damage to the environment

  • An improved image as a socially and environmentally responsible company

Going green will involve some or all of the following steps:

  • Reducing energy consumption

  • Reducing waste and improving the life-cycle management of computer equipment

  • Using less paper

  • Creating a more environmentally friendly working environment

  • Considering work from home options

Many of the options to achieve a greener environment require no initial investment.

Power consumption reduction

A significant reduction in power consumption may be achieved by some simple measures.

Configure all desktop computers to use the standard Windows power saving facility. Simply enable the power-saving option on each computer to allow inactive computer to go into standby and to hibernate. Major cost savings can be achieved. General Electric expects to save $2.3 million dollars per annum by simply using these options.

Enforce a policy of shutting down and switching off computers at the end of the day.

Turn off peripheral devices overnight wherever possible. Equipment in standby mode consumes electricity in small quantities. Small quantities become large when a large number of machines are involved.

Data centres may play a key role in reducing energy consumption through the use of server virtualization, storage consolidation and eco-procurement.

Server virtualization eliminates the need for many servers when one can do the job. The number of servers in use is masked from the user who accesses a virtual private server while in fact sharing the resource with other users. This fulfils a dual role of conserving energy and ensuring more effective life-cycle management.

Eco-procurement involves the specification of energy-efficient equipment when an RFP is compiled and whenever equipment is purchased. Invest in computers and peripheral devices that are Energy Star compliant as these should prove to be more energy efficient than uncertified equipment.

Waste reduction and improved life-cycle management

The frequent replacement of computer equipment results in a worldwide waste management problem. Achieve a longer lifespan for computer equipment through the purchase of higher specification computers. A top-end computer should provide longer service simply because it has more processing power and more memory than the entry level equivalent. When the standard machine starts showing signs of slowing down, the high end machine will still have life.

Developers may require powerful equipment but many computer end-users will be able to work effectively with older computers. The replacement of developers' computers does not have to result in their disposal. Recycle these to staff with a lower processing power demand. Replace equipment as the need arises rather than replacing every computer at once.

While older equipment may no longer be of use to your company, many organisations can benefit from your end-of-life IT assets. These assets may be refurbished to provide a new lease of life for charity and community organisations.

End-of-life assets that cannot be refurbished should be recycled. Recycling companies are able to recover lithium, lead and a host of other materials for use in new equipment. Recyclers may even pay for the old equipment.

Paper usage

A range of measures that result in saving trees include:

Use recycled paper wherever possible. Ensure that all waste paper is sent for recycling. Set the printing options of all printers to default to duplex Citigroup expects to save $860,000 by enabling duplex printing and copying. Halve the cost of paper again by printing 2 pages per side instead of the usual one!

The working environment

At home, electric lights are generally used at night. Conventional office design means that electric lights are needed whether or not daylight is available. Lights at the office are allowed to burn in every room and every facility all day. Even though a board room may be empty for much of the day, the lights are always on. Low cost sensors enable lights to be turned on when people are in the area and turned off when there is no-one there. The same result may be achieved manually if energy conservation is instilled in the ethic of the company.

An environmentally friendly building can achieve significant savings. Using smaller offices with access to natural light sources is an excellent place to start. There is no need to throw away the air-conditioners, but their use may be reduced by having windows that open to allow for the circulation of fresh rather than recycled air. Insulation can reduce heating and cooling costs within a building. Smaller offices can be heated and cooled more efficiently than large open spaces.

Allow for the work at home option

Many of today's jobs can be effectively designated as suitable candidates to work at home. Some may prove to be far more productive. This will result in lower power consumption at the business as well as reduced carbon emissions from the daily journey to work.

Broadband connectivity using secure Internet access is a viable option. Workers will save the considerable time and energy consumed by the daily return journey.

The work from home option allows for the migration to a virtual office environment. Instead of a desk for each employee there is a virtual work station and conference facilities with plug and play network points providing connectivity and space when necessary.

Video conferencing has become a viable option using a secure broadband Internet connection. Workers are able to meet on-line while working from remote locations.

Going green need not represent a threat to the mid-sized company. Many green initiatives will achieve significant savings at little or no cost. The options that do involve an initial capital investment should produce operational savings from the outset and a positive return on investment within a short time-span.

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