Green IT is a key support for a sustainable business

First, I will admit, I am among the group of IT advocates who claim that IT is overall green; I say this based on widely quoted numbers, primarily from the US, in the growth of such things as telecommuting. For example, 15 years ago there were an estimated 5 million telecommuters in the US, and they really were just that; staying at home one or more days a week, using the plain old telephone to conduct their business, rather than in an office. That figure is now 25 million – and growing and they are no longer just on the phone, but connected via high speed broadband to their company data centres, often for 3 or more days a week.

This has led to an estimated 30 billion litres reduction in gasoline in commuting alone (and the consequential decrease in CO2 output) and savings of hundreds of dollars a month for the average telecommuter. Green IT therefore is as much about cash as it is carbon and pollution reduction. Entrepreneurs, initially in California, but now countrywide have taken this further by no longer having offices; their car, the home and the coffee shop have become the ‘office’.

Another recent IT innovation made available by ever increasing bandwidth, is Cisco’s Teleprescence, whereby large LCD screens duplicate one side of a conference table at each end of a video call, and by using high resolution cameras – connected by seriously fast broadband, at least 10mbps – there is an illusion of being in a meeting room with your colleagues or customers sitting opposite as if they were really there. The cost of this is directly related to the cost of business air travel, which with $100 bbl. oil is not getting any cheaper anytime soon. Some hotels are now installing this for their local customers, capturing budget that would normally go on airfares. Using the system really is great - as long as you have a 30mbps connection or preferably a 100mbps to get over the latency inherent in the internet.

A major innovation is large scale next generation utility computing, often described as ‘Cloud Computing’. Cloud computing promises to be more environmentally friendly compared to traditional data center operational / deployment models, due to greater server utilisation and centralised processing. Industry white papers indicate broadly that by reducing in-house owned hardware and replacing them with ‘on demand’ cloud computing, centres significantly reduces energy costs. Modern racked data arrays also have reduced cooling needs when compared to the older mainframes that they have replaced – often being air cooled - thus reducing both the carbon foot print and power consumption, resulting in reduced costs. Storage in particular and DR/DC can benefit from this as long as you have the technology to accelerate your upload/downloads over your connection.

When this is combined with virtualisation technology that results in greater utilisation of servers, typically taking usage from 10-15 per cent to over 40 per cent, energy – read electricity – is reduced further per operation. Simply put, reducing energy consumption in the use of IT not only saves you money, it makes you green. An issue that needs to be addressed however is to ensure data interoperability when migrating from legacy systems which is required to ensure that information may be accessible using hardware and software from multiple vendors.

What is the low hanging fruit that governments can implement to reduce costs in the short term? The first thing to do is switch off screensavers - they use energy when no one is at the computer. ANZ bank in Australia saved an estimated AUD$100,000 (US$84,975) per annum when they removed them from their 40,000 PC’s a few years back.

Most desktop PC software has options for power settings that may be activated usually under ‘settings>control panel>power options’. Simply select the type of device the software is running on, typically a netbook/notebook or desktop PC, and then set the options to power down when inactivity is expected. Typically this would be after a period of the system being idle, typically 15 minutes to turn the screen/monitor off; 30 minutes to stop the hard disks and 2 hours to ‘hibernate’, which suspends the system but still allows a relatively fast start up.

This will have the added advantage of extending the life of moving components such as the hard disks. This will also ensure that PC’s will power down overnight, but be ready almost immediately in the morning.

In addition any device that has a transformer connected should be unplugged or switched off at source when the device is not in use as they may consume up to 50 per cent of their normal power just at idle. Printers should have their standby mode enabled and be switched off at the close of day, as should cable modems or consumer satellite boxes, these consume as much as 90 per cent of their normal operating power in standby mode.

The above will not only reduce direct device power consumption, but will enable air-conditioning to work less as there is less heat to be removed. Savings in monthly electricity bills of 5-15 per cent from IT devices are to be expected, and most of the above will cost nothing to implement. A more comprehensive program would include installing sensors in rooms to turn on and off lights and air conditioning only when there is movement in the room; however this involves an additional investment. Relocation of large data centers to higher elevations in the country will also reduce cooling needs and hence lower carbon output.

The bottom line is that through existing and developing technologies, the IT industry is making a positive contribution to alleviating climate change, and working with customers, savings can be made in cash, and that can’t be bad!

Mike Mudd is the Senior Partner of Asia Policy Partners LLC, and business consultancy based in Hong Kong focusing on getting results from IT. One of his clients is the Open Computing Alliance, whom he represents in the region. The OCA seeks to encourage productivity, growth and employment through new opportunities arising from distributed and networked computing, together with care for the environment.  Please see and may be reached at

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