Cutting the IT carbon footprint

Businesses, more than ever, need to assess how technologies such as application and desktop virtualization, can reduce carbon emissions.
Written by Dennis Rose, Contributor

According to a recent industry analyst report, green issues will directly affect IT decisions related to the purchase of systems and services over the next few years.

Cutting down the carbon footprint is indeed one of the biggest issues facing the modern world. One of the most significant areas where we can make a difference is within the business sphere and more significantly, within the application of IT.

Until recently, electrical power usage has not been considered a key design criteria for computers, nor has electrical consumption been effectively managed as an IT expense.

Today, the world's most prolific industry leaders, prominent industry analysts, largest government agencies, and most diverse environmental groups offer a new and collective viewpoint--energy efficiency in the data center and on the desk is the most significant issue facing technology providers and their customers. This is due to exponential increases in power and cooling costs over the past few years, as well as customer demand for concentrated computing that is outpacing the availability of clean reliable power in many parts of the world.

Gartner has warned that energy bills, which traditionally have accounted for less than 10 percent of an overall IT budget, could soon go up by four times. The research analyst also separately noted in 2007 that computers account for about 2 percent of worldwide energy usage.

In the case of PCs, about half of the power consumed is wasted. For example, almost all of the electrical power feeding the data center ultimately ends up as heat, and traditional data centers typically waste more than 60 percent of the energy they use to cool equipment, according to Gartner.

Reducing the carbon footprint
According to The Green Grid consortium, the vast majority of hardware devices have been designed to provide maximum functionality and performance with little regard for wider environmental issues.

Top 3 tips to reduce your carbon footprint

1. Choose the most efficient systems for your company, and ensure that machines are virtualized where possible.
2. Optimize TCP and traffic management to ensure that the hardware required to serve Web platforms is kept to the minimum.
3. Use virtualized desktop appliances by migrating users from traditional PCs.

It is therefore not surprising that Gartner's analysts have urged enterprises to make the most efficient use of existing systems in their data centers using technologies such as workload balancing and virtualization, and to plan for greener data center designs in the coming years.

The Climate Savers Computing Initiative group has estimated that if its consumption targets for PCs and server systems are met, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to supply power for computing uses could drop by 54 million tons a year and save more than US$5.5 billion in annual energy costs.

The group also targets efficiency in voltage regulators and is getting companies to turn on power-management software on their PCs, which puts desktop computers into a sleep mode to save energy after periods of inactivity.

Virtualization and the green data center
The key to any effective response to these challenges is to be able to maintain, and even increase, the capacity of IT infrastructure while reducing its energy consumption.

The application delivery infrastructure, including desktop virtualization, has many of the components required to enable IT to achieve green objectives through consolidating or offloading server workloads in the data center and reducing energy consumption of end-points in the office.

Centralizing all applications and data for virtual delivery to users need not have a negative impact on data center power consumption. Intelligent server provisioning and load management can ensure that only that hardware which is needed to meet user requirements is actually being used. For example:

•  Deliver, don't install, applications. When applications and operating systems are installed at every desktop and on every server, there are obvious costs to the environment. Disk storage is one of the most power-hungry components of the IT infrastructure, both to operate and to cool. If applications are stored in the data center and delivered over the network to the desktop, reductions in storage cost also result in dramatic savings in power and cooling cost.

•  Use TCP optimization, traffic management, caching, and SSL acceleration capabilities that efficiently offload Web server functions to reduce the amount of hardware required to serve many Web platforms.

•  Replace desktops with more energy-efficient thin clients, and apply application- and desktop-virtualization and delivery.

Energy efficiency--the proactive approach
There are many opportunities to expand the focus to the users located in the office and elsewhere, by taking a proactive approach.

In the office, desktop virtualization can extend the life of corporate desktops, which often contain hazardous and non-biodegrading materials, and thus reduce the frequency of desktop-refresh programs and the amount of these products that are discarded.

Elsewhere, IT can also become an enabler of more sustainable business and even personal work practices by focusing on carbon emissions from travel related to business, such as commuting to the workplace and driving to meet customers, business partners, and colleagues.

Among the key functions of application delivery infrastructure is providing a secure single point of access to all applications that automatically customizes access policies based on user scenarios. Applications and desktops can also be virtualized and delivered to users working from home.

A modest increase in server population to support the centralized desktops will not increase power consumption due to optimal use of server and storage resources through virtualization and image management across the entire data center. Virtualization allows the IT department to slowly migrate users to desktop appliances, cutting power consumption significantly.

In addition, users can securely work online on their business desktops from home and other locations, and dispersed teams can securely use online collaboration tools to conduct effective meetings without traveling. This can have a significant effect on vehicle carbon emissions because it reduces both the number of vehicles and the number of people traveling at the same time. Traffic flows more freely and less fuel is burned.

IT has a much bigger impact on the environment than most people think, and by assessing the ways in which it can be used to help solve the problems of carbon emissions we can make the world a better place for ourselves and our children to live in.

Dennis Rose is vice president for the Pacific at Citrix Systems.

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