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The slew of ‘green’ products hitting the market all of a sudden makes you wonder if environment-friendliness is becoming a marketing gimmick! Does energy-efficiency alone qualify a product as eco-friendly? What really is a ‘green’ technology product? Here are ten things that makers and users of technology should know about Green IT.
Today, there are so many products, from servers and storage solutions to desktops and even point-of-sale units, which are advertised as being ‘green’. And surprisingly, the only condition many of the so-called green products actually satisfy is energy-efficiency, making you wonder if that is all there is to being eco-friendly!
Well, green might be a primary colour, but as far as using it as an adjective for tech products goes, the hues are far from simple! To qualify as being truly eco-friendly, a product must abide by myriad conditions, right from the composition of chemicals used in its manufacture, the energy consumed to operate and cool the equipment, the space occupied by it and proper disposal after its lifetime. And achieving this requires a commitment that extends beyond the industry to the users of technology as well. Certainly not as simple as it seems!
This article is not a guide to eco-friendly technology products, but a compilation of 10 key points about Green IT that we think all makers and users of technology should be aware of.
Much more than energy-efficiency
Many products that consume less power are advertised as being green. This is not wrong per se, as a significant improvement in even one aspect of ‘greenness’ makes a product eco-friendly to an extent. But true ‘greenness’ involves much more.
“In the context of the enterprise data centre, I would define green computing as a variety of factors, including energy consumption (by the equipment itself and the cooling needed to operate it), floor space or infrastructure impacts, and the reuse of equipment or its extended lifetime (less waste and recycle needed),” explains Dennis Samuels, senior VP, South East Asia and India, Teradata.
Teradata’s new 5500 server, for instance, consumes 75 per cent less electricity and occupies 66 per cent less floor space than the Teradata servers of three to five years ago. Also, each generation of the Teradata server platform is capable of coexisting with newer products likely to be added to the data centre in the future, thereby having an extended lifetime. “This capability, called ‘coexistence’, is preferable to recycling older products for waste value,” he says.
Another major concern is the presence of harmful substances like vinyl plastics (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and the use of toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process. Eliminating these from electronic products is also an important requirement to be considered truly green.
Beyond the manufacture and use of products, one of the most important aspects of eco-friendliness arises only after the product has lived its life—recovery and recycling! According to Greenpeace International, producers should ideally finance the end-of-life management of their products by taking back and reusing or recycling their own discarded products, and should provide voluntary take-back and recycling in every country where its products are sold, even in the absence of national laws requiring Producer Responsibility for electronic waste. They should provide clear information for individual customers on take-back and recycling services, and report the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collected and recycled by it.
Going further, greenness also extends to the domain of consumables. The eco-friendliness of a printer, for example, is closely intertwined with that of consumables like toners, cartridges, etc! How long they last, whether they can be recycled or reused, how harmlessly they can be disposed of after their lifetime, and so on, all add up to a company’s green credentials.
A company that is committed to going green will try and do so in every possible way. Dell, for instance, makes sure that even its packing materials are 100 per cent recyclable.
Though not the only criteria for greenness, energy-efficiency is, arguably, one of the main factors qualifying a product as eco-friendly. Unfortunately, this energy-efficiency is not a simple factor at all! Energy in itself involves a variety of sub-factors, such as power consumed by the equipment, cooling mechanisms, power dissipated, etc. Nowadays, such energy consumption is reduced using better processors, good equipment and casing design, inbuilt cooling mechanisms, ‘sleep’ modes, and more. In fact, energy-efficiency has to be ‘designed into’ a product from the ground up.
Dell has been ranked second by Greenpeace’s Green Electronics Guide 2007. The Dell OptiPlex 755 and other Dell products available with Energy Smart power settings can lower energy costs by up to 78 per cent. OptiPlex 755 also reduces carbon emission through energy-efficiency. Dell’s Latitude D630 has become the first laptop in the world to get the coveted gold status of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). This status is given only to products that meet or surpass all the tough environmental criteria of EPEAT, which is run by the Green Electronics Council.
As awareness increases about the detrimental effects wrought on the environment by lead, other toxic chemicals, excessive consumption and dissipation of power, etc, adhering to green computing requirements has become a necessity for manufacturers and users of technology -- not only for the purpose of quality certifications, but also to remain in the good books of stakeholders.
Cooperation across the supply-chain
Considering the mammoth efforts required, it is not surprising that greening typically requires commitment, coordination, cooperation and efforts by players across the IT supply-chain.
As another example, consider the task of recycling. It requires partnering with, or setting up, recycling agencies; making sure that they recover or recycle the products according to guidelines; encouraging customers to responsibly dispose of ‘dead’ products, and so on.
Big might be better
Greenness is not a factor that matters only for mammoth computing and storage equipment. It matters for every desktop, laptop and hard disk.
For all you know, a slow, old CPU operating in your lab might be consuming far more power than a new-gen server. Sometimes, one huge server might be far more energy-efficient than many smaller ones put together.
IBM, for instance, has recently taken on the task of replacing 3900 of its servers in data centres across the world with 30 Linux-based mainframes, for greater energy efficiency. This undertaking is part of its Project Big Green commitment. It will also manage the recycling of the replaced servers in an eco-friendly manner.
A new server that takes over the functions of 5-10 old servers will consume power similar to just one old server, reducing overall power consumption in a big way. Air-conditioning requirements are also lowered, both in capacity requirements and power consumption. UPS capacity requirements will also be reduced by 4-9 times!
Anandan adds, “Many of our customers are delighted, as the new solution does not force any change to their old applications and operating systems; the new ‘virtualised’ environment runs the old software seamlessly!”
A pan life-cycle effort
A manufacturer wanting to go green must set concrete goals and aim for various certifications as well. This often requires inputs from external partners too. For example, Greenpeace helps Dell set environmental policies and programmes.
Framing policies is only the starting point. Eliminating the use of toxic materials, increasing energy-efficiency, etc, are all improvements that need to be worked on right from the design stage. Eco-friendly manufacturing processes, efficient deployment with user cooperation, right up to servicing and then recycling -- greenness requires efforts at every stage.
All this might take months and even years to achieve. No wonder several companies have roadmaps to go green! Wipro, for example, has resolved to phase out PVC and BFRs from its products by 2009.
How significant is ‘significant’?
Marketing literature often ambiguously states that a product offers ‘significant’ savings in energy. If you are a tech-user, call and ask the company exactly how significant the savings are! If you are a tech-maker, ensure that you give the figures—it always adds credibility to your product.
Green computing is essentially a combination of many technologies. If you look at a data centre, it does not stop with just selecting energy-efficient hardware. It also involves improving utilisation of resources through virtualisation and dynamic provisioning, use of facilities management tools, and so on.
At the server level, technologies like VMWare and Sun’s Solaris containers can optimise the use of processors, memory and power to require less physical hardware and drive up utilisation levels. At the storage level, one should again look for energy-efficiency and high compression rates, so that more data can be packed into smaller footprints.
Vendors are also coming up with newer, innovative solutions. For example, Hitachi’s Dynamic Provisioning can make storage available to applications just when it is needed, rather than on anticipation. They pool storage and deliver it when it is needed, without the need for changes to the server or applications - reducing the amount of physical storage required, without additional effort to manage it. The company is also currently researching a ‘power down’ option for storage disks used for long-term archiving.
Users, please help
A manufacturer’s efforts to make its product eco-friendly will not achieve their full potential without awareness and cooperation at the user’s end. IT managers need to develop a green computing strategy for their companies—for which they first need to understand the concept totally.
Green Storage Technical Working Group last month. It provides organisations with vendor-independent information and tutorials to help understand what green storage really is. That could be a good starting point for IT managers. According to the press release, this sort of independent information will help customers work out data centre efficiencies, calculate the carbon footprint, and do energy modelling.
De Luca of Hitachi says customers should ‘clean up’ the data centre, which is possible only when they first have a current and clear picture of IT assets and dependencies. Then, customers should:
He also feels that the IT and facilities planning departments need to work hand-in-hand at the customer location. “IT managers have traditionally focused on scalability and performance when making their purchasing decisions, leaving facilities managers to worry about space and energy requirements,” says De Luca. Only when they work together will IT managers also understand the extra costs that go into maintaining the equipment they deploy! Moreover, they can also make good use of new technologies—Hitachi Data Systems, for example, offers a unique externally-attached storage, which can actually sit outside the data centre, thereby reducing the amount of heat-generating devices concentrated in one place.
Companies should also take up the responsibility of end-of-life management of the products they use. They should inquire about a vendor’s take-back or recycling policies even before ordering equipment. And they should remember to use those recycling services instead of simply dumping end-of-life products.
Asia is waking up to the new ‘green’ revolution
“I see Europe having led the charge in this green initiative space, with the US finally catching up in this area, and with emerging high-tech regions, such as India, beginning to see the value. The ramp-up of interest in green computing has grown exponentially in the last year in the US,” says Samuels of Teradata.