Eco opportunities come knocking

30 Apr 2009 View Comments
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It is useful to have an understanding of electric generation and power transmission

If the world leaders of the G20 nations are to be believed, green technology and the green economy will help bring an end to the world recession. Whether or not this is true, it is clear that many new IT jobs will be created in an attempt to stimulate a greener economy.

Let’s start with the word “green”, which has been overplayed in the IT industry so many times for different agendas. It conjures up a stereotypical image of a hippie in sandals, protesting against the spread of capitalism and impending doom. I prefer the phrase “efficient computing” to the word “green” as any IT professional can be interested in environmental and cost-saving issues.

Further reading

Many of the skills required to succeed in delivering efficiency are now mainstream technical skills; it could be argued they just need re-packaging for IT professionals to become efficiency experts.

Typically, people who are employed as efficiency experts, architects and analysts will understand technologies such as virtualised servers, virtual desktops, thin clients, power management and datacentre efficiency. Server virtualisation may include Citrix Xen server, VMware ESX and Microsoft Virtual Server or some other open-source variation.

The desktop virtualisation suppliers have traditionally been Citrix with Presentation Server (now renamed Xen App) and Microsoft Terminal Services. Now a new breed of desktop virtualisation includes Citrix Xen Desktop, VMware View and Ericom Powerterm.

Thin clients are often a good, power-efficient alternative to PCs and the market is dominated by Wyse, HP and VXL.

Nevertheless, there is one area of knowledge that serves as the foundation for efficiency which is not fundamentally an IT skill – an understanding of electricity consumption.

Do you know your amps from your watts? Understanding Kilowatt hours, Kilovolt-Amps and three- or single-phase electric power is useful, as is understanding a little about electric generation and power transmission ­ from the burning of fossil fuels through to the distribution of electricity via the national grid and substations.

IT professionals must arm themselves with an understanding of how to make the most efficient use of electricity when it enters the building. DC power distribution, efficient power supplies and three-phase power are some ways to reduce the losses experienced when stepping down from the substation to the DC power used by most PCs.

Cloud computing is one of today’s IT buzzwords and is worth following in the efficiency arena. In theory, a shared resource such as Google Apps can have higher use and therefore greater power efficiency. If the cloud datacentre is close to a green power source, such as a hydroelectric plant or a wind farm, you can minimise transmission line power losses and be even greener.

Building an efficient datacentre requires a different skill set to understand the basics of cooling and heat. You should know your hot aisles from your cold aisles and be able to speak in British thermal units. You should understand thermal surveys and some of your buzzwords should include free cooling and heat exchangers.

Naturally, technology can play an integral part in building an understanding of the issues. A Google search of the phrase “green IT” provides more than 4.5 million results; there are many green computing blogs, LinkedIn special interest groups, RSS feeds and YouTube video channels, not to mention the Twitterverse, which regularly commentates on the sustainable computing sector to keep you up to date with the latest trends.

Half the battle of implementing efficient computing is pitching the business case to the board. This is where the word “efficient” comes into its own. With the recent high costs of utility bills, it is often very simple to show tangible returns on investment. If you can present a quick return on investment based on just financial criteria with the environment element as a value-added benefit, everyone is a winner.

The great thing about the word efficiency compared to the word green is that it means different things to different groups of people.

To environmentalists it means low-carbon computing, to the IT professional it means low maintenance and most importantly, to the finance director, it means cost-efficient computing.

Sean Whetstone is head of IT services at Reed Specialist Recruitment, which won the Computing Awards for Excellence Green Project of the Year 2008.

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