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A journey into Cebit's heart of Greenness

Straight down the YouTube

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What? Vendors haven’t suddenly found a social conscience and decided that they’re the ones with the smarts to save the world? Well, maybe. As the IBM spokesman said, in Europe at least, the rise in energy prices comes against a public background of debate about meeting Kyoto protocol targets. But largely it is down to the fact that energy costs and, in some areas, supply problems have got IT and finance directors sweating.

One of the problems, though, is that comparing vendors' respective scores on energy consumption – never mind the other green issues – is rather difficult, due to a lack of common terminology.

We took to our feet to make a meeting with Joseph Reger, CTO of Fujitsu Siemens Computers, who expressed frustration that the industry can’t agree a standard definition of power consumption that it could then slap on kit in the form of a sticker, so customers could make an informed choice.

In fact, Reger has been pushing the idea for at least 18 months. Reger also pointed out that IT accounts for just a few per cent of total energy consumption, while admitting that every little helps.

Green sticking plasters

We thought long and hard about this, as we took another swing on the shuttle bus back to the Green IT Village, for a chat with Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a non-profit sponsored by a raft of tech heavy hitters, including Intel, Microsoft, Google and eBay. You know, the sort of people who run those really big data centres.

Climate Savers was at the show to push its agenda in Europe. Its agenda is almost elegant in its simplicity: reduce energy consumption by computers by 50 per cent by 2010 by improving the efficiency of power supply units and making sure customers use the full range of power management tools available to them. The organisation targets vendors and corporations, as well as consumers. Vendors commit to making products that match its criteria, while businesses commit to buying kit that meets the organisation’s criteria.

Surely this is the sort of organisation that would love some kind of sticker program? Er, no as it happens.

As the organisation rightly points out, the complexity of IT systems, with their infinite combination of components and software, makes a sticker programme for PCs quite a different proposition from one for a fridge or washing machine, which does one job, on its own, at a predictable load.

As Allyson Klein, whose day job is at Intel points out: “From country to country there are different definitions of what makes an energy efficient PC.” She adds, helpfully, that the US and EU-backed Energy Star standard – surely a sticker program in itself - doesn’t actually address power management, only energy efficiency.

Magnus Piotrowski, who covers environmental and technical regulations for Lenovo, from Germany, added that a first step might be for standards organisations to give some guidance. “Then it will become easier to talk about the same thing.”

Who'll set next year's agenda?

We were left wondering whether the brains trust behind Climate Savers has burned itself out. After all, these are the people who between them have invented the microprocessor, reinvented internet search and advertising, created the online auction market, and shown how you can stymie government regulation for years. Surely they can come up with a few algorithms that can allow you to compare Apples and pears.

We thought about this all the way back to the bus-stop, right through the train station and even as far as the airport. This, of course, is the dilemma for the IT industry, on energy consumption, never mind those other issues exercising the earnest young brains of Greenpeace.

Reacting to customer demand – or at least giving the impression it is - is something the IT industry does comparatively well, certainly on a vendor by vendor level. Building an industry consensus and getting customer in on the act? That’s really tricky, but do-able up to a point. But inviting an outside party in to oversee things is always a recipe for trouble in the vendors’ eyes. But that appears to be, inevitably, what is going to happen. The European Union is already cracking heads on putting standards in place for data centres.

IT Inc could congratulate itself on pulling off quite a show in Hannover last week. But it seems inevitable that by next year or the year after the likes of the EU will be the ones directing where the green paint and hemp carpet needs to be deployed. Unless, that is, we all stop watching YouTube. ®

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