Greening the Internet

Believe it or not, a credible UK report suggests that information technology produces as much carbon gas as the airline industry. An Inefficient Truth is the first research report produced by Global Action Plan on behalf of the Environmental IT Leadership Team.  The Leadership Team is a unique gathering of major UK ICT users from a range of different sectors.

According to the report, ICT equipment currently accounts for 3-4% of the world’s carbon emissions, and 10% of the UK’s energy bill. “With a carbon footprint now equal to the aviation industry, ICT, and how businesses utilise ICT, will increasingly come under the spotlight as governments seek to achieve carbon-cutting commitments.”

But the whole thing is, that at least 80% of this is totally unnecessary and easily changed. Some of the areas of incredible waste are:

1.    Most government and corporate computers are left switched on all day every day – millions of computers here – to enable IT departments to update operating environments after hours when they need to (infrequently)
2.    large clusters of underutilized servers abound, operating at less than 50% of capacity where virtualization would represent significant power savings and cost savings
3.    IT Managers rarely if ever see power bills while being responsible for most of the power utilization in many industries.

And that’s the easy part. Very small changes in this area can dramatically reduce both power bills and greenhouse gas emissions. And governments which are currently looking to set greenhouse targets can fund some nice quick wins here with simple work practice changes.

Which is something industry is taking notice of. Initiatives such as the Green Grid  and IBM’s Green Technology Initiative are looking to capitalize on the new interest here. IBM has already announced a virtual computing program where universities and businesses can replace their existing physical clusters with a much more efficient virtual machine,
while at the same time earning thousands of dollars in carbon credits

But, as Bill St Arnaud points out, this might be just the beginning of what’s possible with broadband and the Internet. In his excellent, Bill points to a number of initiatives and potential initiatives, such as

1.    The Hibernia Atlantic initiative is laying cable to Iceland to allow co-location of data centres with the cheap hydro and geothermal renewable energy sources available. Co-location of large data centres appears to be a massive area of potential greenhouse emission reductions, easily achievable once people have optical broadband capabilities
2.    network architectures requiring less switching centres (sometimes referred to as cloud computing architectures)
3.    Developing societal applications that promote use of the Internet as an alternate to carbon generating activities such as tele-commuting, distance learning

This is all good news, and an area we intend to explore further. We welcome news of initiatives underway in this area and collaboration to affect change to IT practices resulting in both cost savings and greenhouse gas reductions.


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