I attended a seminar at the Educause conference today looking at Green IT developments in the US. Whilst the session revealed some similarities with approaches adopted in the UK, it also highlighted some differences.
There is a growth in teleworking and, like the location independent networking project at Coventry (see “Greening the sector” below), staff had to sign an additional agreement in order to take part. Some sites were remotely powering off equipment, doing this through software that had been bought to manage updates and patches. Most the UK examples I know of have developed their own applications to do this so there is perhaps an opportunity for UK HEIs to maximise their investment in PC management software. Virtualisation of both the server and desktop also featured strongly, although in a number of instances this had only reached the pilot stage.
One difference was that all the institutions represented had dedicated offices for their sustainability projects – and those projects encompassed the whole institution. One of the major strands of activity for these departments is marketing – partly to advise on developments but also to change the institutional culture, particularly amongst staff. One approach I liked was from Michigan where they searched out best practice from other sources and distilled it for local use (for example, picking out best practice for new builds and highlighting how it can be applied to existing facilities). This approach is akin to that adopted for UCISA Toolkits.
One of the few top down strategies deployed was to dictate that only equipment meeting the EPEAT gold standard could be procured. EPEAT is a system where suppliers declare their products’ conformance to a set of environmental criteria in 8 environmental performance categories. The suppliers pay to join the service but they have to declare that they will meet the environmental criteria contained in the IEEE 1680 standard. Products are randomly selected from the list and tested against the manufacturers’ claims in order to maintain the integrity of the list. Such a service in the UK would provide concrete evidence for suppliers and refute claims I sometimes hear that power consumption ratings given by suppliers are optimistic.
The day concluded with a presentation from Stanford on a proposed new data centre. The planned centre would use a fraction of the energy required to power the systems to cool them largely using the ambient air to cool systems. Cooling of the incoming air was required where it was too hot but where it was too cold, the hot air coming off the equipment in the room was used to heat the incoming air. It was estimated that the building would pay for itself within a year. It was also anticipated that there would be little UPS provision in the room (the risk of failure was seen as acceptable when presented against the cost saving). There is perhaps scope to pursue this approach in the UK; use of the hot exiting air to warm the inlet may be required rather more than in California but the main problem is likely to be the level of moisture in the incoming air.
One barrier to implementing “green” strategies is that the investment by the department results in savings at the centre; few departments pay their own energy costs. Some of the institutions passed the delivered savings onto department which provided an additional incentive to go green.
The US initiatives largely mirrored those in the UK. The presentations highlighted much good practice but sometimes highlighted how easy it is to miss the obvious. One institution reported savings on packaging by having all software CDs delivered in one pack (one set per PC) but they could have reduced this further the images preloaded on the equipment delivered.
Also space is not at a premium in the US as it is in the UK. Although the possibility of outsourcing the data centre had been considered there was no thought of building shared data centres that could be used by many institutions.