Over the next couple years, going ‘green’ will become the new black. But as cynical as it may sound, the average CIO is unlikely to develop a green conscience as a result of any environmental epiphany per se. Instead they will be looking at ways of containing spiralling energy costs, adhering to new legislative requirements and fulfilling growing corporate social responsibility obligations in this area as these issues rise steadily up the corporate agenda.
Robert Lee, IT director for the logistics and marine business of the Bibby Line Group, says most companies will not be so much adopting green IT policies as starting to incorporate environmental considerations into their IT strategy.
“We’re currently driven by two factors – we’ve got economic considerations and governance ones relating to social responsibility. And green issues are part of that so we’re certainly conscious of them – it’s part of our corporate ethos as a privately-held company,” says Lee. However, this does not mean enterprises are going to start “chucking out bits of tin and putting in biodegradable computers” any time soon, says Jon Collins, principal analyst at MWD Advisors. Rather the focus will be on controlling the overall environmental impact of technology, with energy efficiency being the main concern.
While energy efficiency has been at the back of many a CIO’s mind for some time, over the next year or so, it will start moving to the forefront. Energy costs have doubled over the last 18 months, they are expected to double again by the middle of 2007. That means that the costs involved in running the datacentre will start raising questions at board level.
Rakesh Kumar, research director at Gartner Group, believes that in a few years’ time, expenditure here could leap from about 10 per cent of the average IT budget to more like 50 per cent.
“At the back end of this year or the start of next, CIOs will have a wake-up call driven by the cost element. I don’t think most CIOs have any more of a green conscience than anyone else but when they do their budgets many see that their power requirements for servers have doubled or trebled. The smart people are going to see that they have to fix the problem,” he says. This increase in demand for power is being driven primarily by the widespread introduction of x86-based high-density servers.
A traditional rack of servers typically requires about two kilowatts of power to operate but this figure jumps 10 times for a rack of blade servers. The problem is only made worse by running multiple racks of blades.
Cooling is another concern as the same amount of energy is needed to control blade rack temperatures and prevent machines from shutting down. All of this is creating an exponential demand for power and the fear is that, over the next few years, some datacentres may not have sufficient available supplies to cope.
To make matters even more tricky, environmental protection legislation is starting to raise its head, which may even result in a tax on those datacentres that are deemed to waste energy. For example, in a surprise move in July, the US House of Representatives approved a bill that called for a six-month study on datacentre efficiency to be undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Among the goals were to determine what chip makers and systems manufacturers can do to increase energy efficiency and to explore what incentives could be introduced to convince organisations to adopt more efficient datacentre technologies. The bill has now gone to the Senate but if passed would require President Bush’s signature.
The EU is also starting to consider green IT issues. It is currently examining whether to restrict the levels of carbon emissions from computer equipment and is believed to be looking at introducing a tax on datacentre emissions should they exceed certain limits, although such discussions are still at an early stage.
All of this is feeding into a general awareness of green matters, which, in turn, increases the profile of environmental issues in terms of corporate responsibility obligations. The upshot is, as time goes on, organisations are likely to portray their response to economic and legislative necessities relating to the datacentre as social virtues. Being able to demonstrate that they have gone green in an IT sense will become progressively important to their brand and reputation.
"Not only do we consider green issues to be important, but we also regard dealing with them to be a win/win scenario. Generally, the environment benefits and our costs go down"
Catherine Doran, director of information management, Network Rail
So what can CIOs do to start addressing this situation? Exploring how the datacentre can be run more efficiently in power terms helps, as does undertaking any new procurement with this in mind.
Ken Moss, IT controller at Allied Carpets, for example, found that consolidating and virtualising the retailer’s servers and replacing PCs with IGEL thin clients at each of its 220 stores brought it huge energy savings.
The main aim of the project had been to centralise its IT systems to improve stock control, speed up ordering times and boost customer service. But Moss says: “One of the drivers for the business case was the fact that we could save £70,000 in energy costs. Fuel costs are adding to the expense of doing business and we’ve seen substantial increases over the last few years. But thin clients only use 15 watts of electricity, whereas a PC’s ambience is 10 times that.”
Network Rail, meanwhile, has introduced various initiatives to try and tackle similar issues. The organisation, which owns and operates the UK’s rail infrastructure, is gradually replacing monitors with low-energy TFT screens, a move that Catherine Doran, Network Rail’s director of information management, expects will cut energy consumption by two thirds.
It has also rolled out handheld computers to replace the paper-based systems currently used by maintenance workers, while providing signal box operators with tablet devices rather than paper forms to check control procedures.
This is expected to save as much as £500,000 in printing costs each year. Printers and fax machines are likewise being replaced with multi-functional devices and print settings are being adjusted to reduce print density to put a brake on toner cartridge consumption. “Not only do we consider green issues to be important, but we also regard dealing with them to be a win/win scenario. Generally, the environment benefits and our costs go down,” says Doran.
With a bit of thought, it is possible to pick off ‘low-hanging fruit’ in a range of areas and although this takes “very little effort, it ‹ can make a large difference” according to Matthew O’Neil, group head of distributed systems at HSBC bank. He has been tasked with looking at the environmental impact of the organisation’s IT function and to establish what can be done about it.
For instance, simply encouraging staff to unplug mobile phone chargers and unused equipment can reap energy saving benefits as can installing power-saving software. To this end, the financial services giant is in the process of trialling 1E’s Nightwatchman applications in its London office, with rollout across its 200,000 UK desktops expected by the end of the year.
The agent-based software makes overnight checks to identify which of the organisation’s client machines are still running, before shutting them down safely. If this cannot take place, the system generates an exception report so that suitable action can be taken.
The bank has also introduced a three-year virtualisation programme to drive up the utilisation rates of their equipment. “This a great thing from a cost control point of view. You don’t have to buy new hardware and you draw on the same amount of power and cooling so it becomes self-funding,” says O’Neill.Francis Sullivan, HSBC’s advisor on the environment warns that it is impossible to look at environmental issues in isolation and that sponsorship at the highest executive level is required to embed a green strategy into organisational culture.
"When your IT kit is at the end of its life, don’t just replace it with the same stuff. Find something that will run more cost-effectively because that’s just as important as upfront costs"
Matthew O’Neil, group head of distributed systems, HSBC bank
“You have to take a very coordinated approach. If you approach it as silos and departments working independently, it’s not going to have the same impact so IT has to sit at the same table with all the other business areas and work with them,” he says.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in terms of procurement, where IT has collaborated with the purchasing department to build environmental concerns into the process. One of the tools that HSBC uses here is the Zero Waste Alliance’s EPEAT environmental certification scheme, which rates electronic equipment from bronze to gold in terms of green performance.
“Equipment that makes it on to the central standard product list has to have a silver rating or above. But I’ve made it a policy that I’ll provide support for EPEAT kit only, so if people want to go outside of that, they have to ask for approval from the Group CIO and pick up the additional costs of support. So you have to have a compelling reason to go outside and no one does,” says O’Neill. In a similar bid to embed environmental wherewithal into everyday practise, the IT department at energy supplier Centrica is working towards certification under the ISO14001 environmental management standard, which it hopes to attain by April 2007.
The organisation has already created an IT environmental policy and is now undertaking an impact assessment to understand how its activities affect the environment.
The next step will be to identify what controls can be put in place to manage risk and, where appropriate, to come up with projects to help improve performance in this area. “It’s much easier to build things in from day one but that doesn’t mean you can’t act later. When your IT kit is at the end of its life, don’t just replace it with the same stuff.
“Find something that will run more cost-effectively because that’s just as important as upfront costs. In reality, it’s all about delivering sustainable benefits,” says O’Neill.
The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport (DfT) and is part of the Driver, Vehicle and Operator (DVO) Group. The DSA promotes road safety by testing drivers, motorcyclists and driving instructors through the theory and practical driving test. It also maintains the registers of approved driving instructors, large goods vehicle instructors, pass plus pupils, fleet trainers and supervises training for learner motorcyclists. But the main service it provides is booking, cancelling and changing dates for driving tests for the public. The DSA receives requests for over 1.8m tests a year with a large number of calls coming from people trying to get a cancellation. In the past, this has been handled by call centre agents and automated speech recognition.
With such levels of demand, the DSA needed to move away from a silo-based approach to a single, online self-service booking application that would be easier to manage. It has identified three strategic priorities – better services for customers, better compliance and better value for money – which will be supported by a one-stop service strategy. The goal is joined-up customer services.
Using services technology from Amberpoint, the SOA strategy is being managed by outsourcing firm Capita.
“The DSA is an organisation like any other, albeit in the public sector,” says Neil Marley, enterprise integration architect at Capita IT Services. “They had heard SOA mentioned when they were looking at strategies. Government is actually one of the sectors that leads in this sort of arena. It is looking seriously at how it can take advantage of services.” In the summer, the system went live to external users with driving instructors being responsible for their own data online.
Early internal efficiency metrics from ongoing pilots of the system show that the Internet Booking Service accounted for more than 43 per cent of all bookings. The use of the automated speech recognition has reduced significantly, in line with the DSA’s channel shift to online self-service.