Green IT – on the slide?

Derek Watson, in his opening presentation to the UCISA CISG Conference last week, noted that the University of St Andrews’ energy costs had risen by a staggering 53% in one year. Presumably other universities and colleges are in the same boat so the argument for green IT initiatives should be something of a no-brainer. However the conference closed with a presentation from Mark Raskino from Gartner where he observed that green IT was at the crest of the peak of inflated expectations and about to head into the trough of disillusionment.

So what are the reasons for this? One Raskino considered was that the IT department does not get the credit for savings made as a result of green IT initiatives – consequently there is a lack of kudos associated with making those savings. This is evident in a number of ways in the higher education sector. Firstly energy costs, even for distinct areas such as a data centre, are usually not charged against the IT budget. Consequently any savings the IT department delivers through, for example, virtualisation does not realise any financial benefit for the IT department. Nor do initiatives which reduce power consumption across the institution such as automated powering down of idle equipment or services that ‘wake’ systems up when they are needed. And if a more energy efficient system is procured by the IT department which is more expensive than a less efficient system, the IT department bears the cost with the savings made over the life of the system reflected in others’ budgets. So perhaps there is a need to provide incentives to the CIO to continue to deliver savings through green initiatives.

The main driver for many of these initiatives thus far has been financial – green IT initiatives were seen as a cost control measure. The current economic climate means that there are other pressures on reducing costs and so green initiatives are likely to be just some of the options being considered. Consequently it may be that options that deliver more immediate cost savings are preferred over green initiatives that deliver benefits over a longer period.

Finally, what has been achieved so far through some of the initiatives outlined above could be regarded as grasping the low hanging fruit. The challenge is to deliver a year on year reduction of an institution’s carbon footprint. This will not be easy. Further short term benefits can be delivered through changes in user behaviour – but getting individuals to change their habits is not a trivial task. Although there are tools available to help measure an organisation’s carbon footprint, there is not a good understanding by the senior institutional management that may be making carbon related decisions of how changes may impact this. IT can deliver savings through making buildings more efficient but this is likely to require a significant investment and at this time there may be other priorities for delivering short term savings. Consequently the case for such investment will have to be strong and deliver both short and long term savings.

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