How Green is Your IT?

Guest Editor's Introduction • San Murugesan • April 2013

Translated by Osvaldo Perez and Tiejun Huang
International readers, read this article
in Spanish • in Chinese

plant growing out of laptopClimate change is a reality, and its main cause is manmade greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, most notably carbon dioxide (CO2). IT professionals and the IT industry are now called upon not only to make IT systems and their work practices greener but also to harness IT's power to address the growing environmental and social problems we face. We can make a difference by harnessing green IT and embracing it in various areas of enterprise and personal activities. In this issue, Computing Now presents a glimpse of the progress and prospects of green IT.

For additional reading and useful information, visit the Green IT Resources page.

Demystifying Green IT

Green IT refers to environmentally friendly computer and information systems and IT applications and practices. The focus is on improving energy efficiency, lowering GHG emissions and carbon footprint, using less-harmful materials, and encouraging reuse and recycling. Green IT encompasses three complementary approaches to improve environmental sustainability [1]:

  • Efficient and effective design, manufacture, operation, use, and disposal of computer and communication systems (including hardware, software, storage, and networks) aiming for minimal or zero impact on the environment;
  • Using IT and information systems to support, assist, and leverage applications and initiatives in multiple domains and industry sectors to reduce energy, resource consumption, and carbon footprint; and
  • Harnessing IT to help create awareness among stakeholders and promote green initiatives.

Beyond just creating energy-efficient IT systems, green IT is also about applying IT to create energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable business processes and practices, as well as transportation and buildings. Given that IT contributes to only about 2-3 percent of GHG emissions, broader applications of IT in other areas of the economy offer significant potential energy savings and improved overall environmental sustainability. With its broad, transformative scope and prospects, green IT is an economic as well as environmental imperative. As many green advocates will attest, it is also our social responsibility.

Theme Articles

IT systems' overall energy consumption continues to increase. To reverse this trend, much research and development has so far focused on improving energy efficiency in hardware — CPU, memory, and storage. Yet, software can also significantly affect energy efficiency in everything from small devices to large servers in data centers. For instance, ill-behaving or computationally inefficient software can significantly increase energy consumption. In "Enabling Green IT through Energy-Aware Software," Manuj Sabharwal, Abhishek Agrawal, and Grace Metri describe several techniques that software developers can use to reduce the energy consumption of computers and applications.

To cater to the growing adoption of cloud computing, social media, and smart phones, datacenters are growing in number, capacity, and power consumption. This means a pressing need to minimize data center energy consumption and carbon footprint. Eitan Frachtenberg's "HolisticDatacenter Design in the Open Compute Project" outlines Facebook's custom-built energy-efficient datacenter and server designs and highlights its Open Compute Project (OPC). OPC fosters collaboration among individuals and organizations and lets designers contribute to improvements in datacenter design, power and water usage effectiveness, cost, and operation.

To model and evaluate different datacenter designs for energy efficiency and performance, designers use datacenter simulators. In "Using Datacenter Simulation to Evaluate Green Energy Integration," Baris Aksanli, Jagannathan Venkatesh, and Tajana Šimuni? Rosing provide an overview and comparison of currently available datacenter simulators and outline how they've used a simulator to evaluate the best ways to leverage green energy within datacenters.

Buildings are the largest contributor to the world's carbon footprint. In the US, for instance, the buildings sector accounted for about 41 percent of primary energy consumption in 2010.[2] Controlling and managing buildings' energy consumption and carbon footprint thus assumes greater relevance; but it's a complex task that involves the interplay among several factors. Nonetheless, we can harness IT's power to facilitate effective, efficient carbon management. In "Automating a Building's Carbon Management," Geetha Thiagarajan and her coauthors present the Energy and Carbon View (ECView) IT framework, which is designed to assist managers in reducing buildings' carbon footprints and providing better insights than current intermittent energy audits. They also outline how they've used the framework they had commissioned to identify ways to reduce their office building's carbon footprint.

Small changes in occupant / user behavior can generate substantial energy and water savings, but changing how occupants use those resources remains a challenge. Pervasive computing and computational intelligence can empower occupants as agents of behavioral change and help them optimize resource use through computational interventions. In "A Smarter Smart Home: Case Studies of Ambient Intelligence," Stephen Makonin, Lyn Bartram, and Fred Popowich present a framework for human-computer interaction in a smart home and share their experience, through two case studies, in designing two sustainable homes.

Creating green awareness through educational programs is crucial to sustainable development, and IT can help in this endeavor, too. For instance, several initiatives in Hong Kong use cloud technologies, online interactive games, competitions, and physical equipment to raise green awareness among high school students. In the US, UK, Hong Kong, India, and various other countries, educational institutions — from schools to universities and IT and management-training providers — have included green IT, green IS, green business and sustainability into their curricula. In "Creating Green Awareness Using IT: The Case of Hong Kong," Wai-Ming To, Andy W.L. Chung, and Linda S.L. Lai describe several green awareness IT applications that are used in Hong Kong schools.

Sustainable IT practices not only benefit the environment but also offer business value. Yet, the onus is on the enterprise IT department to identify, outline, and deliver the value as well as convince the enterprise management and stakeholders about green IT's promise. Adopting a sustainable IT maturity framework can assist IT departments and enterprises in realizing fuller benefits on their journeys toward overall sustainability. Edward Curry and his coauthors' "Sustainable IT: Challenges, Postures, and Outcomes" presents one such maturity framework and discusses sustainable IT's business value from four different postures: cost center, service center, investment center, and value center. The authors also briefly outline Intel's IT Sustainability Program and its outcomes.

For more information on this topic, refer to Related Resources page and recent issues of IEEE Computer Society magazines IT Professional, Computer, and IEEE Internet Computing, as well as Computing Now's May 2011 issue, which are specially focused on Green IT.

Opportunities Abound

Green IT is an enabler. New technologies and systems such as RFID (radiofrequency identification), Internet of Things, sensor networks, smart phones, ubiquitous computing, cloud computing, context-aware systems, environmental intelligence, smart systems, and so on present new opportunities to address resource (energy and water) consumption and improve environmental sustainability. For instance, a network of smart devices and ICT could potentially reduce global carbon emissions by almost one fifth, according to a new research report from the nonprofit organization Carbon War Room and AT&T.[3] Carbon savings can come from actions that might seem trivial — optimizing trucking routes, efficiently loading container ships, or giving crops just the right amount of water, for example — but they can add up make a big impact.

Final Remarks

The green movement is creating new career opportunities for IT professionals and others.[4] IT has a new role to play, helping to create a greener, more sustainable environment while offering economic benefits and social value. IT professionals, educators, researchers, and businesses can make a difference by harnessing IT's power to create a sustainable environment for the benefit of current and future generations. Smart companies are adopting innovative environmental strategies to innovate, create value, and build a competitive advantage. The imminent introduction of more green taxes and regulations will also trigger a major increase in demand for green IT products, solutions, and services.

Enterprises and individuals can — and should — work both independently and collaboratively to accelerate the adoption of green IT and help speed the world's transition to a low-carbon economy. A few universities and training institutes have taken the lead and started offering courses on green IT and green computing, and others are expected to follow suit.

I hope this issue of Computing Now motivates you to do what you can to help address the environmental problems facing us by embracing IT innovatively. I invite you to share ideas on novel IT applications for reducing our carbon emission and improving our environment in the comments section below, or to me by email at san1[at]internode[dot]net.

References

  1. S. Murugesan and G.R. Gangadharan, "Green IT: An Overview" in Harnessing Green IT: Principles and Practices, Wiley and IEEE Computer Society, 2012; http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1119970059.html.
  2. Buildings Energy Data Book 2011, US Department of Energy, March 2012; http://buildingsdatabook.eere.energy.gov/docs/DataBooks/2011_BEDB.pdf.
  3. M. Cullinen, Machine to Machine Technologies: Unlocking the potential of a $1 trillion Industry, Carbon War Room and AT&T, 2013; www.grahampeacedesignmail.com/cwr/cwr_m2m_down_singles.pdf.
  4. P. Albright, "Expected Growth for Green Computing," Career Watch, IEEE Computer Society; www.computer.org/portal/web/buildyourcareer/JT28.

San MurugesanSan Murugesan is the director of BRITE Professional Services and an adjunct professor at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He is a corporate trainer, a consultant, a researcher, and an author. He is coeditor of the new book, Harnessing Green IT: Principles and Practices (John Wiley and IEEE Computer Society, September 2012), editor of Understanding and Implementing Green IT (IEEE Computer Society, 2010), and co-guest editor of IT Professional's special issues on Green IT, Jan-Feb 2011 and Jan-Feb 2013. He's associate editor in chief of IT Professional, editorial board member of Computer, and the leader of IEEE CS Cloud Computing STC's publications group. Murugesan is a fellow of the Australian Computer Society, a distinguished visitor of the IEEE Computer Society, and a member of the Technical Committee on Scalable Computing (TCSC) Steering Committee on Green Computing. Contact him via email san1[at]internode[dot]net, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

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