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Gov't departments tout 'green' IT credentials

HMRC and the Highways Agency have outlined some of the IT initiatives that are helping Whitehall cut carbon emissions
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Government IT is undergoing a major shift as Whitehall attempts to revolutionise its approach to green computing.

Two government departments, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Highways Agency, showcased their environmental credentials at the Green IT 08 event in London last week.

Government chief information officer John Suffolk also held up the Department for Work and Pensions as an exemplar of green IT in the public sector, saying the department had reduced its number of servers by 2,500, slashing its CO2 output by thousands of tonnes.

HMRC has about 100,000 PCs and 6,600 servers, processing everything from tax returns to P45s for about 60 million people. IBM has recently completed a review of the department's carbon management in IT, pinpointing various ways to cut emissions.

Philip Secretan, head of sustainable computing for HMRC, outlined the changes, which include:

  • Installing network cards to remotely control PCs, allowing the department to run its PCs 12 hours per day, 220 days per year, as opposed to 24 hours per day, 365 days per year
  • Rationalising datacentres through virtualisation, which recently enabled a cluster of 260 servers to be replaced by just 24
  • Reducing paper usage by 20 percent, by setting printers to print on both sides of the paper
  • Replacing equipment less frequently
  • Increasing the ratio of staff to printers
  • Cutting down on equipment by using multi-function devices
  • Building fatter connections between the department's 300 offices to promote videoconferencing and enable the rollout of VoIP

Secretan said: "We are fast approaching the government's target of reducing CO2 emissions by 12.5 percent by 2010. We have to make the capability available to our workforce to embrace sustainability."

HMRC outsources much of its IT infrastructure and is working to encourage green practice among its service providers, said Secretan.

Another department airing its green credentials was the Highways Agency, which manages 4,696 miles of trunk roads and motorway, carrying one-third of all traffic in the UK.

Denise Plumpton, director of information for the Highways Agency, described the massive job of rationalising the sprawling IT infrastructure that underpins nine offices.

Plumpton said: "IT has a key role to play in meeting government targets on climate change."

The Highways Agency has replaced about 400 standalone devices, such as printers and photocopiers, with multi-function devices, and increased the printer-to-staff ratio from 1:4 to 1:25. It has also fitted network cards to allow unused PCs to be switched off and is relying heavily on videoconferencing for virtual meetings.

The agency is aiming to recycle 30 percent of its waste and plans to extend the life of PCs beyond three years. It is also consolidating servers through virtualisation and implementing environmentally friendly PC disposal.

Plumpton added that the Highways Agency is in talks with sat-nav providers about allowing drivers to access its latest information on the road network through in-car devices, helping to reduce CO2 emissions from motorists.

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