Green IT isn't about saving the planet

According to figures from the ACM a 10% reduction in both server power and cooling in all datacentres in the USA would amount to a 0.04% change in total US energy consumption. Wow! So reduce power to save money, or to make yourself feel better, but don't tell me it's about reducing footprint. Especially not if you drive a SUV, live in air-conditioned and/or heated comfort, eat meat, fly, or use anything plastic or electronic. Green IT is marketing, pure and simple. Cynical branding such as KyotoCooling just makes me ill. It is in the same league as people who think they do their bit for a better world for their children by sorting the recyclables in their garbage. Or who bang on about reducing paper usage at work while they wear cotton clothing.

For those who care about these things, see Communications of the ACM, April 2010. Electrical power is about 45% of energy supply in the USA. 1.5% goes to data centres. "much more than 20%", say 25%, is used for cooling. So 0.45 x 0.015 x 0.25 = 0.00169 or 0.2% Same again for running the servers. So a 10% reduction in both server power and cooling amounts to a 0.04% change in total US energy consumption.

See also I'll be going green


Great supporting article

There's an interesting article by Zoyd Reece Luce of Risorgimento Management that highlights the need to focus on principles of sustainability when deciding what projects to focus on and when beginning work on a project. Interesting point therein as it relates to IT projects: the need to conserve human resources is just as important as conserving natural resources. More here:

Goldratt was right: Local Optima vs Global Optima

The day after watching Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, I bounced into the office, determined to make a difference.

I spent a few days (without my boss's permission) speaking to various people about the costs of electricity and identifying ways for IT to save money. One Civils consulting engineer was quite intrigued, he told me that every watt of energy consumed in the building, required an additional watt of energy to extract it (in the form of air-conditioning). Simple options:
1. Replace all old model computers and CRT monitors with more efficient Energy Star computers (this customer site likes to sweat assets) - although this would require significant investment
2. Automatically switch off all computers and screens at night (requires minimal investment in management software)

But then I discovered something interesting - the Facilities helpdesk said that the policy was that all computers had to be switched off when not in use. The IT Service Desk had a different policy - all computers were to be left running in order for AV updates and patches to be deployed.

Conflicting policies are often the cause of great waste.

Dingbat thinking like Gore's

You will also reduce the lifetime of an electronic device by constantly turning it on and off. Electrical connections don't like cyclic expanding and contracting, and fan bearings don't like starting and stopping. My PC runs for months at a time

I'd also suggest the carbon footprint of the manufacture of the new machinery would so far exceed any savings you might make by buying more efficient ones as to be laughable. Well, the manufacturers will be laughing anyway... all the way to the bank.

Squeezing assets is in the interests of the planet and the bottom line. the endless junking of functional IT equipment must be one of our major contributions to global warming.

Dingbat thinking like Gore's seldom stands up to the test of engineering common sense. he's prodding the middle-class conscience for his own self-aggrandisment and offering unscientific or impractical sops to the resulting discomfort

Buying Yet More Stuff

You're right. I was fooled then, but can now see through the rampant green-washing.

I quickly realised that buying new kit would simply be more of the same... which is why that idea quickly died. Identifying the conflicting policies was far more interesting.

Green IT for the right and wrong reasons...

If "going Green" actually demonstrates reduced energy costs (which I think some are 'skeptical' of)...
If "going Green" actually pays credits in jurisdictions that have carbon credits... :)
Then I am all for it...

But if "going Green" in IT is to "Save the planet", I thought I would share the Prologue of Jurassic Park... The earth has survived other era's, it will surely survive us well...

[Prolouge of Jurassic Park]
You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity. Let me tell you about our planet. Earth is four-and-a-half-billion-years-old. There's been life on it for nearly that long, 3.8 billion years. Bacteria first; later the first multicellular life, then the first complex creatures in the sea, on the land. Then finally the great sweeping ages of animals, the amphibians, the dinosaurs, at last the mammals, each one enduring millions on millions of years, great dynasties of creatures rising, flourishing, dying away -- all this against a background of continuous and violent upheaval. Mountain ranges thrust up, eroded away, cometary impacts, volcano eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving, an endless, constant, violent change, colliding, buckling to make mountains over millions of years. Earth has survived everything in its time. It will certainly survive us. If all the nuclear weapons in the world went off at once and all the plants, all the animals died and the earth was sizzling hot for a hundred thousand years, life would survive, somewhere: under the soil, frozen in Arctic ice. Sooner or later, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would spread again. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. Of course, it would be very different from what it is now, but the earth would survive our folly, only we would not. If the ozone layer gets thinner, ultraviolet radiation sears the earth, so what? Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It's powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation. Many others will die out. Do you think this is the first time that's happened? Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison, a corrosive glass, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on earth. Those plants were polluting the environment, exhaling a lethal gas. Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago we didn't have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven't got the humility to try. We've been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we're gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.

Schools should educate us in green and survival skills

Because some of my teachers at Grammar school were explorers and a bit 'out there' in that they shared real life experiences when discussing topics - I know some basic survival skills and will always have a box of 9-volt batteries and steel wool nearby to make a fire!

There is no doubt we impact our planet. To what extent - we will likely never know. CO2 is vital to plants. Oxygen can kill. Water is the most precious and neutral resource. What disappoints me is that schools here in the US seem NOT to focus on a basic list, a top ten things you can do every day to be a little green, coupled with more top tens related to basic survival skills -- which MUST go beyond 'turn on the tv', 'fill up with gas', or 'go get food from the local store'...

the top 10 things you can do to be green

  1. Demand more nuclear power plants, worldwide
  2. Become vegetarian
  3. Don't buy cotton
  4. Buy more goods made in developing nations
  5. Outsource jobs to developing nations
  6. Demand that religious leaders preach birth control worldwide
  7. Don't replace any technology until it fails
  8. Ride a bike everywhere, even when it is raining or you are wearing a suit or you want to pick up your kids or you are going to the supermarket
  9. Buy forests at market rates instead of whining about them
  10. Turn off the TV at the wall to save the power from that little red light


LOL- good list...But:

I can't agree with Point 2. You are eating trees and plants when you are vegetarian!! - Totally against a 'green' world!
Probably, eat less - and if you have to, non-vegetarian!


Meat is murdering the planet

One kilo of beef reportedly consumes six to sixteen kilos of grains and legumes. Modern lot-fed or battery-fed meat is extremely inefficient use of food resources, without even getting into land degradation, water consumption, energy consumption, water pollution, antibiotics, hormones and direct methane emissions. Nobody can eat meat and claim to be serious about greening the planet.

before you ask: yes I eat meat. Lots.

And it comes from New Zealand

It is quite amazing that fresh lamb meat from New Zealand is cheaper (and better) than local product in Finland. We eat quite often New Zealand products.


Export the best

Yes when we lived in Melbourne we ate superb and often cheap NZ lamb too. Hard to get it here though :) And our kiwifruit are often mis-shapen and hard.

As far as I know though, NZ lamb is still all grass-fed. They erode the land, displace native ecosystems and probably also fart a lot, but at least they are grazing a crop that humans can't eat directly and many of them are on land that wouldn't grow much else. If you must eat meat and still want some green credentials, buy NZ lamb.


It's true the Earth would be relieved to see us go in the same way my dog is relieved to see his fleas go but
a) I truly doubt our influence on the planet is as apocalyptic as many would have us believe. Every generation has its doomsday scenarios
b) the human race differs from other species; we can modify the environment in our favour and wee can use tools to adapt to more extremes than just about anything but bacteria and cockroaches i don't feel we're out of here any time soon. When the end comes for humans it is much more likely to be a random event beyond our making; think asteroids or Yellowstone. In the meantime I plan to get on with making the most of life within the bounds of common sense (mostly)

That's a terrible attitude.

That's a terrible attitude. Akin to those who say "I'm only one person, I can't make a difference". If every industry tried to make a 0.4% difference, then we might actually make some improvement.

So lose the holier than thou attitude, step up, and try to make a difference.

moral judgement

I'd prefer you engaged me in rational debate rather than moral judgement, especially if YOU are going to accuse ME of being holier-than-thou. I rather think I'm being unholier-than-thou :)

Perhaps you haven't read my post. If four billion extra people are going to live in material comfort then your 0.4% is like drinking the Pacific to stop sea level rises: not only ineffectual but also stupid. According to the Economist, a leading group of academics agrees.

I'd suggest instead of playing into the hardware-vendors' hands with your suburban guilt-tripping that probably only liberates more carbon, your passion would be better directed at some fundamental planetary change.

I'm not sure I believe the numbers anyway

The ACM says 1.5% of American electricity goes to data centres. Think about that. Of all the steel mills, ethanol plants, factories, railroads, ports, warehouses, hospitals, shops, malls, supermarkets, street lights, homes and those little warning lights they put on high towers, one 66th of all the electricity goes on data centres? I call crap.

Green IT

First of all 10% reduction is a pitifully small reduction target.

Critical load (the powering of IT equipment) on average accounts for 50% or less of the power draw of the 200M sq ft of data centers in the US. (Average PUE >= 2.0) So the real "work" of IT itself is less than the power to condition the space and remove the heat. Second Virtualization and Blade infrastructure could reduce that significantly (> 70% reduction) given that most servers are sub 10% utilized and the difference from a 20-30:1 consolidated server power draw to the draw of each of the individual servers is small (say Average 350w each vs 780w for consolidated server). Surely we all know Vmware rules and this works by now. Workloads not servers need to be the basis of discussion and clearly better workload energy management is required. It is a self supporting capital cost avoidance argument.

On the matter of conditioning the space, the other energy draws are: UPS loss (lets assume .1-.2 of the critical load) and cooling (lets assume .7-.8 of critical load - thats conservative on the low side of historic on that 200M sq feet). Lighting makes up some small rounding error as does solar load, humans at 100w/body etc....

So cooling represents lets say 35-40% of the total facility power draw at least (and per DOE data as much as 60-80%). This can be reduced by 80% or more with technologies like KyotoCooling. This alone represents a 28-35% reduction in overal facility energy. (Can you say maximum LEED points?) Remember most of the inventory of DC's is old and not efficient. Very little is sub 1.8 PUE today.

When combined with Blades the higher delta T (Rise in temperature through the IT equipment) again halves the amount of cooling energy required. So virtualize on Blades and use KyotoCooling.

The US is trending to 120 Billion Kwhrs annual energy use by 2011 (

The potential reductions are not trivial notwithstanding that the DOE targets are not as good as US business COULD achieve.

So I don't understand the cynicism here. Anyone awake and breathing should be able to reduce DC power by 50% over a three year life cycle with smart IT and facility management, and deployment planning tied to life cycle refresh of IT. Heck I hear that ESCO's will install KyotoCooling and alternatives with no capital outlay on shared savings finance models.

Skepticism is good, but it should not be synomymous with Cyniciscm. Otherwise why try? I suppose they could have called it CopenhagenKooling but they would have had to make it less efficient :)



Oh for goodness sake. If the entire power consumption of every data centre in the USA, buildings, servers, lighting, cooling, lifts and self-flushing urinals, were replaced by spiritual power from the aura of green crystal pyramids, that would amount to a saving of 1.5% of 45%, or 1/150th. What's not to be cynical about? Green IT is a conscience salve to people who can't let go of their grossly wasteful lifestyles.

I can't let go either. I don't want to. I drive my car everywhere because I want the independence. I play with high-tech toys whose manufacture doubtless liberates obscene amounts of carbon. My house is bigger than a shack. I like lots of lights on. I eat meat and unsustainable fish and I have lots of rainforest furniture and cotton clothes. I adore flying to other countries in jet aircraft. And so on. This is the very best time to be alive in the entire history of mankind and I intend to make the most of it. But I don't delude myself that sorting my recyclables and refusing CFCs and saving power on the servers at work is going to make up for it.

if you really want to make a difference, go to bed at sundown; ride a bike to work; eat the corn without passing it through a cow first; amuse yourself with a chess set instead of TV, Xbox and internet; make your own clothes, furniture and music; take your holidays in the next valley over; and live in a cave.

So we will go on and burn everything?

OK, so you do not believe in researching for solutions to our energy and resource over-use? So you do not believe in adapting your own behaviour? Your comment reads as if you like to say: Enjoy now, the rest go to hell (burn?).

If you compare the insulation of German houses with those in most other countries you can find out where your green house gases come from. The largest part of energy use is still for our houses, so why don't poeple insulate properly? Why shouldn't we research in better lighting (going from 100 Watts Edisons to a 7 Watt LED bulb does reduce the usage, even though it increases the use of rare metals and others)?

So why should we even begin thinking about such minor things as the servers? Well, because every little bit counts. If you are targetting an overall reduction in CO2 production of 30% (for the 2° C target), you need every tenth of a percent. Yes, be smart about it, but do not redicule people that think about even minor contributions.

Yes we need to show if companies just jump onto the green wagon without doing anything. But not like this post.

A little ridicule might help

Even if global warming is anthropogenic (and the world has historically been much warmer than it currently is without human help and without causing a doomsday runaway greenhouse Earth), you can't seriously expect the other two thirds of the human race to hold off on achieving an affluent lifestyle - there'd be global war if you tried to stop them. Which is why they are exempt from lots of the emission restraints. All our middle-class twiddling is pissing into the wind in the face of that impending growth.

Yes I'm all for making a difference. That's why I'm a fan of nuclear power. Cut coal and oil fired power generation in all countries of the world and there's a big chunk of emissions gone. But the folk who fizz about global warming are often the same ones who get all agitated about peaceful nukes. The world still awaits a better compact controllable source of power that doesn't get trashed in the first extreme weather to come along [ooh oops, I wrote that before Takashima. Nevertheless wind turbines and solar arrays are much more fragile than a properly constructed nuclear power plant.]

I'm also a fan of birth control. The sooner the Catholic and Islamic churches get told to preach a message that doesn't drive us all to destruction the better. But nobody's game to take that one on. And I'm keen to raise the standard of living of as much of the world as possible so they have less incentive to breed. The more world trade, Nike factories, and outsourced call centres the better, I say. Guess who opposes those?

The moment someone comes up with a vehicle power source that is as convenient and safe as petrol and is cost-competitive I'll be supporting that too. I live in a country that already tried LPG and ethanol.

And I'm also in favour of any technological initiative whose TOTAL carbon footprint including manufacture, distribution and maintenance is less than its supposed savings. There aren't many. What do you think it takes to blow fiberglass batts or styrene slabs? I dunno but I've never seen it factored in the savings. They also retain moisture in the walls, thus increasing the usage of powered dehumidifiers. Don't see that factored in either. What does it take to manufacture rooftop solar panels and their batteries and electronics? What are the emissions of all the little vans running about installing, repairing and cleaning them? Large-scale centralised power generation is common sense; household panels and windmills aren't.

The latest one to do the rounds on email recently was little wind generators on every lamp-post. For heaven's sake! the fact this got acclaimed as a great idea shows the whole thing is completely out of control. If the human race were serious about reducing carbon emissions, which it isn't, we'd address the big important bits instead of piddling about the edges of the problem and pursuing ill-considered solutions that don't actually help. A little ridicule might provide perspective.

Green IT Is About More Than Reducing Energy Consumption

One extra consideration that springs to my mind is how about choosing suppliers who are more responsible in the way they design, manufacture and ship their goods? I recently blogged about how frustrated I become each time I have to buy toner cartridges for laser printers. Never mind that the pricing seems a total rip off (compared to the initial cost of the printer) the amount of packing involved in re-supplying me with some black powder just seems ridiculous. Surely they could have come up with a better design by now. Or have I just become the IT Cynic, Mr IT Skeptic?


The total impact of a server on the environment is not only defined by it's energy use when powered on. I could not dig up the source, but the production of a server took approx. 45% of the CO2 generated over the full life-cycle of a server and the disposal was another large chunk.

So if the buying decisions of large corporations start to be influenced by a more greener view, I don't mind. I still know that this will only have a marginal impact and that we need to force the industries to be more environmental friendly.

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