Jim Lynch

With all the Buzz about climate change, energy conservation, carbon footprints, and environmental impact, it's easy to get lost in the noise and assume that there's little or no clear signal to be had. In this column, I'll highlight some simple IT upgrades that can provide both environmental and cost-cutting benefits.

Change Power Settings Probably the easiest measure you can take is to change the power management settings of all end-user computers to automatically go to "sleep" after 15 minutes of no use. This is a no-cost upgrade that IT departments can manage on a network system level. PCs are now designed to sleep while remaining on networks to prevent loss of data or connection. Using such power management features on your company computers saves, on average, nearly half a ton of CO₂ and more than US$60 per PC per year in energy costs.

Replace Older Computers Not all computers are the same in terms of their power usage; for instance, the average laptop consumes one-fifth the energy of a desktop PC. Also, the new generation of microprocessors are speedier and use less energy. As your company retires older computers, it should replace them with energy-saving laptops and desktops that are now available in nearly all cost brackets. The primary criteria for energy-efficient computers is Energy Star 4. Modern Energy Star-compliant PCs or laptops use 15% to 25% less energy on average than a standard new computer.

Energy-Saving IT Resources

Are You an Accidental Environmentalist?" by Preston Gralla

Energy Star-Compliant Computers

"Eco-Responsible Server Design" by Subodh Bapat

"How Virtualization Software Can Turn One Computer into Several" by Kevin Lo

Logicalis Virtualization Energy Savings Calculator

"10 Simple Steps to a Green Data Center" by Dave Douglas

Switch to Energy-Efficient Servers Subodh Bapat, Vice President and Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystem, is one of the notable experts in the field of sustainable computing. In a recent article on eco-responsible server design, he wrote that the cost of power as a percentage of overall IT spending ranges from 20% for small enterprise datacenters to about 80% for very large hosting and collocation providers. The largest resource hogs are the servers, storage, and switch infrastructure. With the rising cost of electricity, he estimates that the power and cooling costs required to run a low-cost server will soon outweigh the acquisition cost of the hardware.

Virtualization Virtualization is a software-based solution that takes a single-server environment and creates the illusion of multiple environments. In doing so, it cuts datacenter power consumption up to 80%. Virtualization has the additional benefits of server consolidation, improving ease of management, reducing backup and recovery time, improving testing software configurations, and saving space in the server room.

The main virtualization software companies are VMware, QEMU, and Microsoft. Their software packages can enable a single server to do the same work as several servers. The total cost of ownership and payback of virtualization is dramatic and immediate. According to Energy Star, the energy costs for running a server for a year quickly exceeds the price of acquiring it, so replacing up to 15 servers with one server pays for the software investment almost instantly.

Jim Lynch is the Program Director for computer recycling and reuse at TechSoup.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that supplies hardware and software to charities around the world. Reach him at techsoup.org/greentech.