Users put vendors on the spot in a Green IT panel debate in London, calling for less bloated software, clearer standards and consistent messages.

Panellists at the Environmental IT Leadership forum, held in London, debated the environment merits of stretching the IT refresh lifecycle, and investing in virtualisation, cloud technology and thin client devices to reduce their carbon footprint.

The audience, at the event organised by the environmental charity Global Action Plan , was made up of CIOs and IT decision makers.

Panellist Richard Steel, president of Socitm and CIO at Newham Borough, called for more innovation in technology to tackle climate change issues.

"IT is about innovation. We have to recognise the demand for power for these products and concentrate efforts to offset this," he said.

Socitm members, said Steel, want benchmarked systems with lowest cost IT. "But it doesn't matter how efficient the technology is if it is not used effectively," he said. The challenge for business now is around how to use ICT effectively."

Catalina McGregor, chair of the government's CIO/CTO Council Green ICT Delivery Group, advised delegates to "sweat the assets".

"Vendors are not bad at pushing hardware. But it's better to sweat the assets than refresh, taking into account that it's hard to dispose of old technology in terms of recycling, landfill, energy of exporting. This is the case, even if the new PCs use less energy."

Steve Bowden, CTO for sustainability at IBM, said: "Hardware is relatively cheap now compared to five years ago. But at the end of the day it's how you use the technology. Traditionally we've not been optimal in how we use it."

Bowden added it's up to IT departments and technology companies to "get their house in order and then go out and impact the rest of the world."

On the question of software, users complained to the panel that it is often "bloated, ineffiecent and packed with features that put a strain on servers.

Matt Deacon, DPE chief architect at Microsoft, agreed that bloated software is inefficient software and explained that Microsoft has environmental sustainability in mind when designing code.

Deacon said 'sustainability' sits within the Microsoft Trustworthy Computing Initiative, alongside security and interoperability. The mantra of the Initative is that products are secure and interoperable by design. By positioning sustainability within that framework, software can be "sustainable by design", according to Deacon.

But a representative from the Met Office in the audience said a budgeting software programme from a third party vendor used as much server processing power as the complex weather forecasting software.

"This is because we use extremely tightly written code because no vendor can supply the hardware that would support loose code. But when it comes to the budget software, tightness of code and efficiency is a low priority," he said. "It's not in the spec to increase efficiency of software."

Commenting after the event, Richard Steel (see Richard Steel's CIO blog here) said, “I think it's quite encouraging that vendors and system integrators are now responding to the pressures for change but, this is really about competition. How can they use the Green Agenda to gain competitive advantage?

“The real drive has to come from consumers. I think we have been slow to appreciate the scale of the problem, and many of us are still not taking basic steps like switching-off at night. The imperative to generate efficiencies will certainly help, but we also need to capture hearts and minds.”

Steel said he was less convinced by arguments about software bloat and the optimal usage of servers.

This, he said, “can be just an excuse from users.” The president of Socitm went on to highlight the need for more modular software and service oriented architecture, which he said “more flexible deployment of software, software reuse, easier to use, more efficient resource utilisation - is certainly a requirement.”

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