The recent leaking of emails and code from the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit has kicked off many discussions about climate change and specifically whether it really is man-made. This disclosure coming, as it does, to coincide with the Copenhagen Summit is likely to be downplayed by politicians and the IPCC as it stands to undermine everything they hope to achieve. After all, if there turns out to be no foundation to mankind exacerbating the climatic change then there will be no need for Global economic measures nor for Governments to impose taxes or levies based on CO2 emissions.
Is this, therefore, the end for Green movements and more specifically for Green IT?
No matter which way the climate change argument is resolved the route that the IT industry has embarked upon still has merit. If we use the phrase “Sustainable IT” (which I personally prefer over “Green IT”) then it becomes clear that there is still much to be gained by continuing to think and operate in the same way. The world that supplies the raw materials from which we produce hardware and derive the required power still only has a finite supply. Extracting those materials results in marring at best and, at its worst, destruction of the environments within which we live.
Only a few years ago the IT press were running stories of the impending failure to supply power to the growing data centres in London – this issue has not disappeared and data centre growth is now further constrained by the power requirements of the UK Olympics. In addition the issue has been overshadowed by climate change and the need to reduce carbon footprints. If, however, we think about this some more, then we find that the two issues are linked; every mega-watt of power consumed in running a data centre produces around 1/2 a tonne of CO2 equivalent. Implementing sustainability changes such as virtualisation and reducing the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric to reduce consumption as the basis of reducing the carbon footprint will also release power for expansion. This is unlikely to completely solve the power problem but may provide a long enough buffer for long-term solutions to be implemented.
If we look again at the effects of implementing sustainability changes we can see another immediate benefit to be gained from reducing power requirements – financial savings. In the current economic climate IT managers are under pressure to get more for less, whether that is more energy or more computing power. In addition company executives are less likely, at this time, to sanction major capital expenditure on a new data centre than on changes which will reduce the ongoing operational expenditure.
Sustainable IT practices are not solely linked to climate change but have as their basis financial savings and sound engineering. Neither of these are going to disappear, regardless of the outcome of man’s influence on the climate as there are plenty of other drivers for change.