Digital World: IT's green revolution

PCs, servers, and printers use power like the big, bad jet airliners.

green computer 88 (photo credit: )
green computer 88
(photo credit: )
Next time you're at the airport, take a deep breath. Not too deep, though - we wouldn't want to contract emphysema or some such respiratory disease, not an unthinkable prospect at a high-pollution locale like the airport. Actually, you might not want to breathe too deeply in any city with a major international airport, since the exhaust permeates over a wide area, pulling the air quality down considerably. With hundreds of flights a day taking off from thousands of airports around the world, it's pretty clear that commercial air traffic is a significant contributor to pollution - particularly Co2 emissions. Commercial airliners are responsible for 2 percent of Co2 emissions, experts say. Well, guess what else is responsible for 2% of air pollution: Your computer! Yes, you read that right: According to the Gartner computer industry analyst group (, the amount of electricity used to power PCs, servers, office telecommunication systems, printers, etc. -and the air conditioning units used to keep them from overheating - is the same as that consumed by big, bad jet airliners. And the problem is just getting worse. The amount of energy used in IT environments doubles every five years. That unfortunate fact doesn't sit well with Yisrael Katzir, HP's national Israel technology solutions group pre-sales manager. He and the HP Israel pre-sales team intend to do something about it. Actually, the efforts by Katzir and HP Israel to increase awareness of the negative energy implications of large-scale "computer pollution" is just a part of Hewlett-Packard worldwide's attempts to raise consciousness about reducing emissions resulting from computer use and support, Katzir says. While "green computing," the moniker given this new concern for IT systems' impact on the environment, extends to all levels and aspects of the industry - from energy-saving monitors to low-consumption printers - the biggest and fastest energy saving yields come from working with large corporations with numerous server installations. There's a lot that can be done on that front, he says, including cutting emissions for the environment by cutting energy use, and saving some hefty sums to boot. How so? Well, Katzir says, there are a number of strategies: using efficient hardware, innovative software and clever data management techniques can reduce energy use in large server farms and IT installations. Sometimes it's a matter of something as simple as repositioning the way servers are set up in a server room - called "best practices" in the HP green philosophy book - to enable more efficient server-room cooling, reducing the amount of juice being drawn by the a/c. Other strategies consist of consolidation of servers in different parts of the building or city and utilizing the resources of a single room more efficiently. (Server racks in many companies are often half empty, HP studies have shown, so if a company is doing serious cooling in numerous half-empty server rooms, it can easily and simply save power by consolidating its servers into one room.) In fact, Katzir says, many of the actions that companies can take to save energy - and money - are easy, logical and are likely to be implemented anyway. Then there are the more active steps companies can take - steps and procedures that Katzir's team helps companies around the country to implement. One strategy that saves not only energy but also outlay on hardware is server virtualization - running two or more servers on the same hardware, thus reducing the physical number of servers used by an organization and saving on the power required to run both systems. Between virtualization and its first cousin, consolidation - packing more data onto single machines - companies can reduce their IT department energy use by as much as 25%, Katzir says Remember, it's not just about making do with less hardware - it's about bringing everything together, preferably in a single location, thus reducing the area of the building that needs to be cooled. Then there are the blade-server systems ( where modular components come together under a managed energy policy - another electricity saver even mid-sized businesses can take advantage of. "Dynamic power throttling" is yet another innovative technology. Using this system, software determines whether or not maximum power is needed to run the currently active application. Applications that don't require a lot of processing power, for example, would be run with less power coming into the server, as it may need only one of the several processors in the server. Why not turn them off when not in use? And then there's the "crown jewel" in HP's stable of energy-saving techniques - dynamic smart cooling. One of the biggest power drains in the server room is air conditioning; keeping the machines from melting down is one of the most challenging tasks for server-system managers. With standard a/c systems, the cold air blows around the room, with some parts of the room cooler and some parts warmer - another enormously inefficient energy waster. The dynamic smart cooling system ( saves energy and money by regulating the flow of air inside a server room, ensuring a uniform temperature in all parts of the room. While it's very sporting of companies to care about the environment, you would think that, with all they have on the their plate, green computing would not be at the top of many corporate executives' agendas. Wrong, Katzir says, adding that the response to his team's efforts in this area have been met with great interest among many mid- and large-sized companies. "With the environment becoming such a major issue for governments around the world, companies have become much more aware of the problems of excessive energy consumption," he says. "Their stockholders demand it, and in many places, governments are going to begin demanding it as well." In fact, Katzir says, more and more requests for proposals for computing systems - especially for new facilities - include requiring provisions for green computing. It's not just about energy, he says - it's about money, too, and during these days of $100 a barrel oil, that counts for a lot. And HP practices what it preaches, Katzir `. The company aims to reduce its total energy use by at least a quarter within the next two years - and will consolidate what was once more than 300 data centers into just three, with each providing all services and backup for each other. If the company is putting its money where its mouth is, there can be no doubt about it - green computing is here to stay.