Whether the economy is shrinking or growing, businesses shouldn’t overlook the tangible benefits of having a comprehensive energy efficiency strategy. Too often, these benefits are lost in a sea of unclear - and often conflicting - messaging.
Moreover, businesses without a strategy may face challenges in the current market. While in the past, power availability has been the main driver behind energy efficiency, EU legislation is now a key factor, enforcing carbon reduction targets on businesses operations.
This article looks at the pragmatic steps companies can take to improve energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint, based on Dell's internal efforts, which have resulted in substantial operational savings and serve as a model to help customers worldwide achieve similar savings.
For a typical office-based company without a manufacturing facility, it is likely that the powering and cooling of IT systems in the business account for the majority of its energy consumption.
This article focuses on the electrical energy usage aspect of IT - other factors in the sustainability agenda include producer responsibility to offer recycling options for old IT, packaging and supply chain management. Electrical energy in IT is effectively used in two areas: client systems (desktops and notebooks) and servers (in the data centre). According to discussions with customers across Europe, very few IT departments ever see an energy bill for their IT systems. It goes to the facilities team. Given this lack of transparency, it is easy to understand IT’s lack of interest in saving energy. Most companies don’t monitor their energy use at any level.
This is starting to slowly change, in part because of government legislation and pressure from customers. For larger companies, legislation scheduled for 2010 will require companies to reduce their carbon footprints, with financial penalties for non compliance1. This legislation will affect any company consuming more than 6 GigaWatts of electricity in their business. This equates to a continuous load of just under 685kW, or around 70 racks of servers. In preparation for this, businesses are starting to focus on the monitoring and controls necessary to manage and then reduce their energy use.
At the beginning of 2008, Michael Dell announced Dell would be carbon neutral. By reducing its energy consumption, buying more renewable energy and offsetting any remaining carbon impacts with renewable energy credits, Dell achieved operational carbon neutrality in 2008, five months ahead of schedule.
One effort to conserve energy and cut expenses, for example, was the installation of software on 50,000 desktop and notebook computers that turns off computers overnight and repowers machines from a centralised command when work hours resume. As a result, Dell expects up to a 40 percent reduction in energy costs for desktop and notebook computers, leading to estimated savings of US$1.8 million annually2.
The company also now sources more than 25 percent of its global energy needs from renewable sources.
While current corporate pressure is to minimise both capital and operational expenditure, many businesses are taking the longer-term view that investing in infrastructure that improves energy efficiency is worthwhile. Although unwanted in these financially hard times, the recent increase in energy costs3, make it easier to analyse and adopt solutions that reduce power consumption
Take desktops, for example. In most companies, a typical refresh cycle is two to three years. This is generally driven by support issues, which become more expensive as the hardware ages. The relative regularity of the refresh cycle has a side benefit in that users will be running the latest, and thereby more efficient technology. This is important, as a typical modern desktop consumes around 25 percent of the power that its predecessor would have.
Servers, although refreshed regularly due to support issues similar to desktops, tend to be kept longer as upgrades are more complex and can involve periods of down time for the business. The longer a server stays in the data centre, the greater the inefficiency and cost to the business. Each new generation of server consumes approximately 20 percent less energy than its predecesor4, so running two- or three-generation-old servers can result in substantial waste. Updating to the latest server technology has a threefold saving:
• They use less power,
• The server heat load needs less cooling, and
• There will be losses in items such as power distribution and cabling which are proportional to the power consumed by the item. So every watt used by a server typically requires an additional two watts to support it.
Given the environmental focus of many companies today, more are concentrating on what happens in the data centre. Data centre power consumption has been rising for some time. It is estimated that data centres alone consume around 1.5 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption5. This is the result of more businesses introducing IT into their operations, and many are outdated and running unsuitable power and cooling technology.
Servers typically have a three to five year life cycle, both physically, in terms of support and in financial depreciation terms. Whereas the data centre environment has a write down of at least ten years and needs to house existing hardware, it must also be adaptable enough for the IT requirements of the business in ten to 12 years.
Changes made to the data centre fall into one of two types:
• Where changes are incremental and where upgrades happen as they are required. This is, for example, where the data centre air conditioning needs replacing because of obsolescence or unreliability and is then replaced by the latest high technology system, which will be more energy efficient.
• Where a physical business move is required, and the data centre is included in this. This results in a completely new build and allows the adoption of technologies that would not be viable as part of a refurbishment but are feasible for a new build. Very often the latter can deliver significant savings. A NHS Trust recently completed a new build data centre and estimates its electricity savings as 24 percent per annum6.
In conclusion, many companies find that adopting green IT can be very beneficial. However, it is essential that changes be planned with both a short- and medium-term outlook. The financial savings can be significant and customers also appreciate a company’s commitment to environmental sustainability.