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IT shouldn't cop all the blame for wrecking environment

Green IT use by businesses matters too

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Quocirca's changing channels The IT industry is in danger of becoming an unnecessary apologist for environmental woes caused by the equipment it sells. While there is certainly room for improvement in the way IT procurement and infrastructure is managed, this must not be overshadowed by the more positive aspects that good use of IT can make to the overall greening of businesses. However, manufacturers and resellers of IT products and services need to get better at putting this message across.

A lot of the bad press focuses on data centres and, indeed, these should be the starting point for any initiative to green the use of IT by businesses. The way in which the buildings, energy supply, cooling equipment, hardware and software associated with data centres can be adapted to improve energy efficiency are well recorded. But a point that is often missed is that these carbon economies can all be made because the data centre is a well structured and manageable environment.

For many businesses the majority of energy consumed by IT will not be in the data centres, but in the numerous business locations it is there to serve. The office remains IT’s wild frontier, a jumble of PC, printers, monitors, branch servers, telephones and numerous other devices all in an uncontrolled environment. Moving more of this kit into the data centres and reducing the “office-IT factor” will give business more control over the energy consumed by IT.

Of course a lot of kit needs to stay near the point of use, such as monitors, printers and telephones. Here standards and remote management can help. But moving branch servers into data centres, introducing thin-client computing where practical and serving remote users with web-enabled applications all have a part to play in reducing the “office-IT factor”. This is not just about the physical relocation of kit but also about the transfer of processing power out of the office and the reduction of network traffic by keeping the heavy lifting between “clients” and “servers” with the data centre.

Some might point to a potential downside in that data centres can become a single point of failure for applications that were once widely distributed. But this can be mitigated through good management and failover facilities. Meanwhile, businesses are better able to account for IT energy consumption that enables them to substantiate associated environmental claims.

And this is where the IT industry needs to get its message across better. Many IT applications can drive reductions in energy usage elsewhere in the business, for instance, reducing transport requirements and better buildings management. If it can be shown that executives are flying fewer miles, that employees’ car mileage claims are reducing, that supply chains really are more efficient and the buildings are cooled and heated more effectively though the use of IT, then genuine claims can be made that this is helping to reduce the total carbon footprint of a business.

Most people do not want to see economic progress put into reverse, but at the same time most accept changes need to be made to many human activities to reduce their environment impact and allow prosperity to be maintained for the long term. Rather than being a negative factor in all this – perhaps more than any other activity that is berated for its energy consumption – IT has a positive role to play.

Quocirca’s report “In Defence of the Data Centre” is free to Reg readers here.

Copyright © 2007,

Bob Tarzey is a service director at Quocirca focused on the route to market for IT products and services in Europe. Quocirca (www.quocirca.com) is a UK based perceptional research and analysis firm with expertise in the European and global IT markets.

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