Until green policies are driven by government, local companies will only adopt what makes sense for their bottom lines.
The IT industry uses a lot of power. It’s arguable that its entire history is determined at a fundamental level by the properties of electricity. Processors have gone multi-core because single cores have cooling problems at higher speeds, some peripherals such as display adapters have their own cooling units for the same reason, there’s a massive global shift to virtualised infrastructure for power and efficiency reasons, and datacentres have been redesigned to be as efficient as possible.
One of the biggest wakeup calls was published in 2007: a study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that estimated that the US spent nearly $3 billion in 2005 keeping its datacentres on and cooled and that the world in total spent $7 billion. But since then, datacentres, by far the hungriest consumers of power, have gone virtual.
David McMurdo, sales and business unit manager for enterprise server and storage at HP SA, says that unit counts – the number of boxes shipped – from Q1 2007 through to Q4 2010 haven’t changed.
“There’s been no change up or down. We can say that the virtualisation trend has kept the unit count constant.”
Tim James, director at Sustainable IT, says that although the unit count has stayed the same, utilisation has increased.
“You are using more of each server. A normal server sits at 15 percent utilisation; a virtual one is up around 75 percent.”
Chris Norton, regional director for southern Africa at VMWare, says the saving isn’t as big as everyone thinks.
“The metric is that an idle machine still uses 70 percent of the power requirements as a fully-utilised machine,” he says. “A study in 2009 shows that there are more virtual machines than physical ones, so one would expect the size of the physical footprint to come down over time. But the trend we’ve seen is that people are looking to save power so they can fit more servers in the datacentres, not to be good corporate citizens. Companies run out of physical power on the grid and they have two options then: build another datacentre in another location, or use their existing resources more efficiently.”
Barry Hatfield, business development manager for cloud services at Internet Solutions, agrees that it’s all about efficiency in the local market but there’s also another key reason.
“I think specifically in the Johannesburg area, there’s only so much power available in certain areas. In our datacentre, we’ve put in cooling technologies and are becoming more efficient. That is a green initiative but the driver is so we can put more racks down.”
Dan Engel, regional sales manager for Polycom, says the reasons for going green vary from country to country and should be driven by governments.
“Once a government gives tax relief benefits because a company is able to show that it’s green, it becomes not just a CIO issue but a CEO and CFO issue. When the government is pushing it, then adoption is much faster.”
Sean Wainer, country manager for Citrix SA, says it won’t be driven by government in South Africa but purely by capacity.
“The fact of the matter is that our utility does not have the ability to provide the power required. So our adoption is not going to be driven by rebates but by demand. We need to build datacentres and we need to power them. Our utility isn’t going to come up with clever ways of supplying more power.”
HP’s McMurdo points out that green IT isn’t coming through in procurement either.
“It’s not a requirement on a tender. The typical ones are there: processing power, memory, storage and so on, but there are never questions about power requirements, recycling and re-use. We’ve just shipped an order to government and it was all about price and capacity. It’s tough for hardware vendors who invest a lot of R&D in lowering power consumption and government takes no notice. The hosting providers are charging by kilowatt but outside that, not much.”
Dell SA’s Kobus de Beer, product marketing for enterprise products, says the efficiency drive by vendors has been prompted by the IT industry’s carbon footprint.
“We did a study that showed that the IT industry generates more carbon than the airline industry. That’s why there’s so much research from the hardware vendors, so see if you can consolidate 180 servers into 22.”
Sustainable IT’s James says he’s seen companies starting to be quizzed on their environmental track records.
“Some of the big corporates are starting to drive that. That means smaller suppliers have to report that because the bigger companies have voluntary requirements to be greener. But we’re miles away from it being driven from government.”
VMWare’s Norton says that modern hardware and software has efficiency and green elements built in already because they source technology from global vendors.
“So to go greener in this country, it’s really just a light bulb that has to be turned on somewhere. I think government should be involved in the same way that BEE is a government initiative. In the manufacturing and IT sector, there should be a similar one. For every server you take out, you’re removing one and half tons of emissions per year. Until government make it a requirement, other companies won’t make it a requirement to do business with them.”
HP’s McMurdo says that the culture in the office is important. Laptops with docking stations still draw power if plugged in overnight.
“Our offices here aren’t that intelligent. There are no IT systems working the buildings, shutting off things when they aren’t needed. We can’t just focus on the datacenter, we have to get the culture everywhere.”
The technology does exist – Polycom’s Engel calls it basic functionality.
“In our offices in Israel, a relatively warm country, we have motion sensors connected to the lights and the air conditioning. This is something you can implement and save immediately on the electricity bill.”
Citrix’s Wainer asks whether that sort of culture is driven bottom-up or top-down.
“Is it a company’s responsibility to enforce green or is it a personal thing to unplug your power supply?”
James says he’s seen more than 90 percent of corporate desktops stay on 24/7 and a quarter of laptops stay in the office over the weekend.
“To be honest, there is technology to power stuff up and down when it’s needed. We just don’t get it in this country. We’re in the Dark Ages from that point of view.”
Ereeza Ryland, chief marketing officer at Powertime, says it should be a top-down thing.
“You have to build it into your mission statement. But IT can be used as the enabler for this: software and hardware sensors can be used to measure everything right up to buildings and infrastructures.”
Gus Pinto, brand manager for Fujitsu at Di-Nostix, has some examples.
“One of the things we have is zero power devices. When the device goes into standby mode, the power goes down. That also works for AC adapters, notebooks and docking stations. The minute you walk out of the office, click – it’s off. But this has to be adopted from the top down otherwise most people won’t bother.”
IS’ Hatfield says the easiest driver is cost.
“We don’t build datacentres based on how many racks we can fit in, we build them based on how much power we can get into a site. Clients who use more power in their racks get charged for that. Those clients are very aware of what their kit is drawing. Those are the people who start looking for more efficient solutions.”
Dell’s de Beer agrees that culture change can be nudged in the right direction by cost.
“When there are budget issues or interest rate hikes, we start pushing. We turn off our geysers. At companies, when things get tight, IT guys ask how much power they can save. But from a culture point of view, we’re just not there yet. I’m just as guilty. I don’t recycle and I’ve investigated putting in a solar geyser at my home for the last seven years and wondered about the ROI.”
June Julyan, sales director at Bateleur, says cultural attitudes are heavily influenced by knowledge – or lack of it.
“I don’t know, for example, whether leaving my cellphone charger plugged in draws power or not. You start discussing that at the office and someone will say it’s a fallacy. Someone pooh-poohs it then it gets pushed away.”
But despite the ad-hoc nature of most South Africans’ attitudes towards greener policies, there is at least one document pushing for more sustainability: the King III report. Sustainable IT’s Tim James says corporates are starting to take more notice.
“King III mentions corporate sustainability and it’s definitely starting to get onto the agenda of CIOs and CEOs. They’ve heard about it and they don’t know what to do about it, just that they have to tick the box. And it really is just box-ticking at this stage. But the reality is there are big cost savings. The technology has it built
Powertime’s Ryland notes that power costs are going up by 25 percent per year for the next three years.
“If a company goes over a certain usage, they will be penalised. Perhaps we should be looking at which department uses more power.”
Norton says it comes down to gluttony.
“There’s over $140 billion worth of excess server capacity out there in the industry. That equates to a three-year supply to the industry. We’re running way more technology than we really need. Most organisations provision for the peak. Instead, they should be provisioning for the average and outsourcing the peak to the cloud.”B
Source: Paul Furber, Brainstorm Magazine, April 2011