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Sun: IT departments must tackle energy ignorance

IT systems contribute up to 85 percent of the total energy usage of some organisations, the server vendor claims

Too few tech professionals have a handle on what their company's energy usage is, and this must change if any real progress is going to be made in terms of improving the efficiency of IT systems, according to Sun.

Speaking at the Carbon Footprint IT Summit in London this week, Sun commerical director, UK and Ireland, Sue Wilkinson, said it was time IT departments started to take a serious interest in the energy consumption of their organisation.

"We all know what we pay at home, but there is very little responsibility coming out of the IT department when it comes to business, and the reason for this is that they don't pay for the energy," she said.

Wilkinson conducted a quick straw poll of the audience, which revealed that only around a fifth of the IT professionals present knew what their company's energy usage was. A similar poll showed that everyone present knew what their home energy costs were.

According to Sun, IT departments can represent up to 85 percent of the total energy usage in a technology-intensive company, such as a telecoms provider.

"I am putting out a challenge to you all to look at your own environments and see what you can do," added Wilkinson.

Also speaking at the event was Sainsbury's IT director Angela Morrison, who admitted that the supermarket chain's main data centre was not as efficient as it could be and was in need of an upgrade.

"We have two data centres: the main production one and one for test and development. The main one was built in 1968 and is not the most environmentally friendly centre. About 58 percent [of the energy used in the centre] is used on the IT kit but the kit is not as good as it could be," she admitted.

Morrison added that the recent decision by Sainsbury's to move management of its IT systems in-house — after a period where the IT infrastructure had been outsourced — would have efficiency and environmental benefits by giving the supermarket chain more direct control.

"We had lost control of what went on but now we have made it much tighter than before and one of the benefits is that we have got control back of the green agenda," she said.

Sun has been pushing the green agenda heavily for the past few years. In particular it is keen to position its Sun Ray thin-client devices as the green alternative to desktop PCs. Selling Sun Rays benefits the company because of the margins it can make selling the servers required to support the thin terminals.

The average Sun Ray consumes around 4W of power, compared to 300W for a PC, according to Sun.

Wilkinson claimed that Sun uses its own thin-client technology in all its own offices, and has had the same devices in place since 1999 in its main London headquarters. The company estimates that the devices only have to be upgraded every 20 years, compared to the three-to-five-year upgrade cycle for a typical PC.

However, when pushed on why thin clients have never really found traction outside specific niches such as call centres, Wilkinson admitted that convincing employees to give up ownership and control of their PC can be a difficult task.

"It is a massive cultural shift. Taking the PC away from the user and giving them just a window onto a server can be difficult for some people, but once they get past that you get used to it," said Wilkinson.

The other challenge about moving to thin client terminals is that staff increasingly want laptops instead of desktops, even the ones who don't travel, she added.

Shaun Jordon, a solution architect at BT's Sustainability Practice, also speaking at the event, said that although the telecoms provider is not actively involved in thin-client technology, as with other energy-efficiency projects, it is as much about cultural change as specific technology. "It is analogous to remote working; if you do it as a pure technology project then it will fail," he said.