Certification Goes Green
BackBy Agatha Gilmore —1 | 2 |
It’s the picture of modern simplicity: Neat rows of trim workstations run lengthwise across the room. Each compact booth, sectioned off from the next with adjustable grey partitions, is equipped with a small-form factor computer, flat screen monitor, plush headset and rolling desk chair. There is no clutter, no extraneous furniture. The walls and carpet, both taupe, are smooth and sleek.
Apart from the ficus in the waiting room, this particular academic testing center might not look or feel very “green.” But it certainly operates that way.
Opened in Baltimore in March 2007 by Prometric, a testing and assessment services provider, the complex is the company’s first environmentally friendly testing facility. Hailed as the “test center of the future,” its calculated design and power-efficient IT devices save Prometric an estimated 40 percent on energy bills.
“We’ve been committed to making these changes,” said Alison Indrisano, COO of Prometric. “Building our model center in Baltimore was a great first start because we could see the impact of the changes.”
The test center also features a flexible design that allows for more workstations to be added quickly and at a minimal cost, and Prometric is contemplating a furniture buy-back program to expand recycling. Additionally, staff members now are required to obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation.
The idea for the center, which took six months to develop and spans 3,000 square feet, came from Prometric’s involvement with the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization committed to championing sustainable building practices. Since its opening just more than a year ago, the green facility has hosted more than 5,000 test takers.
“It’s been successful,” Indrisano said. “Not only does it have a sleek design and professional-looking feel, but it’s [also] comfortable for candidates.”
As far as guinea pigs go, this one has been a success. It’s proven that “going green” is not a fad. Instead, it’s a viable, even necessary, business move.
“There are two things that prompted the whole interest in green: driving energy costs and the debate around global warming,” said Kim Stevenson, vice president of the communications, media and entertainment industry group at EDS, a business outsourcing firm. “Particularly, though, the rising energy cost has really become a factor in how IT operations run. Fifty percent of your cost to operate a data center is electricity now. It becomes a huge concern.”
Companies have reached a point where they can no longer simply negotiate rates with vendors because energy consumption and cost are eclipsing rate reductions, Stevenson added.
“So you have to think about how you are going to consume that resource differently,” she said, adding that, in this sense, “green” can take on two meanings. “It can be good for the environment but also good for the company’s bottom line.”
A recent report by Gartner Inc. predicted that rising energy costs, along with climate change and additional environmental regulations, will force IT management teams to deal with the green issue whether it’s en vogue or not.
“We believe it represents the start of a significant and material change,” wrote Simon Mingay in the December 2007 report. “One thing is certain: The ‘business as usual model’ is now widely accepted as being completely unsustainable and will not continue.”
But for many IT managers, knowing where to start can be tricky and overwhelming. The Prometric example, with its multifaceted and fully integrated green platform, can be intimidating. According to Mark Bramfitt, principal program manager at energy provider Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), confusion when first approaching going green is an understandable reaction.
“I think, to some extent, there’s too much information for people to choose from,” he said.
This might lead some corporations to think that greening their operations will require a total overhaul. But in reality, becoming more eco-friendly typically consists of small changes over a period of time, said Dileep Bhandarkar, an engineer at Microsoft who is in charge of infrastructure architecture and standards for global foundation services.
“It’s something you have to do on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “You take lots of these little pieces, and you add them up to things that can be pretty huge.”
To make that process a little easier, we’ve broken down the four major trends in green IT: energy efficiency, power management, virtualization and design. Integrating any or all of these techniques will result in more efficient and less costly operation in the long run, putting your organization on the green map.
Data centers are notoriously wasteful when it comes to power. Studies show that about half of all energy is squandered.
The main culprits are power conversion and inefficient motherboards, said John Carr, an engineer for Intel Corp.
Right off the bat, a computer must convert AC wall power to DC power to use it, resulting in between 65 and 70 percent efficiency, he said. The motherboard further complicates things by taking the newly created DC power and converting it again for use in the processor, memory, hard drive and other internal components. This results in about 75 percent energy efficiency in motherboards.
“If you do the math, 65 percent efficiency times 75 percent efficiency — which is how you get the overall system efficiency — [is] about 48 or 49 percent efficient,” Carr explained. “So about half of the power that goes into a computer from the wall gets wasted in heat.”
He added that while servers are slightly more efficient than desktops, there still is plenty of room for improvement.
With so much heat being released within data centers, more energy — and therefore more money — is expended on cooling systems. Microsoft engineer Dileep Bhandarkar explained that in live data centers, power use efficiency hovers between 1.5 and 2, meaning for every watt of power consumed by the server box, there’s another half-watt or watt being consumed in conversion and cooling.
The technology for more efficient computers is available — it just costs more. That’s why Intel and Google banded together in 2007 to found the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a nonprofit organization aimed at expanding awareness and implementation of green IT. The theory is that increased awareness will create more demand, which in turn will lower the premium on more efficient products.
“One of the challenges in the industry has been that power supplies are a relatively cheap component in a PC,” said PG&E’s Mark Bramfitt. “And to drive costs down, you can use fairly low-efficient power supplies. We’re trying to transform the whole personal computer industry by getting people to start putting high-efficiency power supplies in PCs.”
Climate Savers has about 150 corporate members — including Microsoft and PG&E — and thousands of individuals who pledge to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through power efficiency and management.
“We expect that the price premium for meeting the high-efficiency target ratings in any year will decline toward zero over time,” Climate Savers stated in its November 2007 white paper. “Even at modestly higher prices, more efficient computing systems will pay for themselves in reduced energy costs.”1 | 2 |