Greener IT Can Form a Solid Base For a Low-Carbon Society

Greening ITPrecisely a year a go we launched  the book Greening IT in print and online (free to download). And if I may say so, the book is still worth the effort of reading.

The book aims at promoting awareness of the potential of Greening IT, such as Smart Grid, Cloud Computing, Thin Clients and Greening Supply Chains. The chapter “Why Green IT is Hard – An Economic Perspective” is my contribution to this book. See Greening IT and read the following press release.

Press release Greening IT

Information Technology holds a great potential in making society greener. Information Technology will, if we use it wisely, lead the way to resource efficiency, energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions – taking us to the Low-Carbon Society.

The IT sector itself, responsible for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, can get greener by focusing on energy efficiency and better technologies – we call this Green IT. Yet, IT also has the potential to reduce the remaining 98% of emissions from other sectors of the economy – by optimising resource use and saving energy etc. We call this the process of Greening IT. IT can provide the technological fixes we need to reduce a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors of society and obtain a rapid stabilisation of global emissions. There is no other sector where the opportunities for greenhouse gas emission reductions, through the services provided, holds such a potential as the IT industry”, says Adrian Sobotta, president of the Greening IT Initiative,   Founding Editor and author of the book.

In her foreword to the book, European Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard writes: “All sectors of the economy will need to contribute…, and it is clear that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have a key role to play. ICTs are increasingly recognised as important enablers of the low-carbon transition. They offer significant potential – much of it presently untapped – to mitigate our emissions. This book focuses on this fundamental role which ICTs play in the transition to a low-carbon society.”

The book aims at promoting awareness of the potential of Greening IT, such as Smart Grid, Cloud Computing and thin clients. It is the result of an internationally collaborative, non-profit making, Creative Commons-licensed effort – to promote greening IT.

There is no single perfect solution; Green IT is not a silver bullet. But already today, we have a number of solutions ready to do their part of the work in greening society. And enough proven solutions and implementations for us to argue not only that IT has gone green, but also that IT is a potent enabler of greenhouse gas emission reductions”, says Adrian Sobotta.

It is clear that the messages in the book put a lot of faith into technologies. Yet, technologies will not stand alone in this immense task that lies before us. “Technology will take us only so far. Changing human behaviour and consumption patterns is the only real solution in the longer-term perspective”, continues Adrian Sobotta. IT may support this task, by confronting us with our real-time consumption – for instance through Smart Grid and Smart Meters – thereby forcing some of us to realise our impact.

But technologies, such as Green Information Technologies, are not going to disperse themselves. Before betting on new technologies, we need to establish long-term security of investments. And the only way to do this is to have an agreed long-term set of policy decisions that create the right incentives to promote the development we need.

Datacenters, an architecture approach

Many IT people underestimate that a great new technology can be insufficient to build a successful and sustainable business. Because of their trust in a technology’s superiority they fail to spend enough time exploring business drivers, (alternative) business models and business architecture. They often go with the first IT product they come up with. Yet, history is littered with great technologies, products that didn’t succeed.

IT people could greatly improve their success chances by spending more time with understanding the current used business model and business architecture or searching and finding new business models and business architectures. Every IT technology, IT product or IT service can be used but the challenge is to find the IT solution that fits the best with the business model and business architecture that is being used. Improving a data center starts with a proper understanding of the business model and the business architecture that is being used and not by a simple roll out of the newest technology.

To give some examples. Virtualization is a great technology to improve the utilization of your servers. But if the people of the datacenter have the incentive to maximize the utilization of floorspace you can expect resistance to your virtualization plans.

Another example is that part of the problem to get IT green is that one of the involved parties can make a choice or transaction that has an effect on other parties that are not accounted for in the market price. For instance, a firm using excessive energy and thereby emitting carbon will typically not take into account the costs that its carbon emissions imposes on others. As a result, carbon emissions in excess of the social optimum level may occur. In economic terminology there is an externality.

And using cloud computing terminology what is your datacenter really offering? Is it SaaS, PaaS, IaaS or just a facility center on top of which third parties can build their propositions. And then what are the (technical)implications when you are offering a SaaS, PaaS or IaaS service?

Bottom line your technology proposals must be in sync with the business drivers and the business model.


To meet the business and technology needs of a data center an architecture development method is wanted. To take an architecture approach (see for example TOGAF) in constructing a datacenter you first have to start with

  1. A proper comprehension of the business model that is being used …
  2. then you can formulate the business architecture and
  3. finally you can start with designing the IT architecture and defining a technical design and finding appropriate products.

Business model

A method to describe a business model that has become extremely popular this last year is the business model canvas of Osterwalder. If you are unfamiliar with this concept have a look at this side or this slideshow Basically the concept introducing a standard language and format for talking about business models. Nine key items serve as the building blocks for all business models:

  1. Customer segments: Who will use the product?
  2. Value proposition: Why will they use the product?
  3. Channels: How will the product be delivered to the customers?
  4. Customer relationships: how will you develop and maintain contact with your customers in each segment?
  5. Revenue streams: How is revenue generated from which customer segments?
  6. Key activities: What are the key things that you need to do to create and deliver the product?
  7. Key resources: What assets are required to create and deliver the product?
  8. Key partners: Who will you want to partner with (e.g suppliers, outsourcing)
  9. Cost structure: What are the main sources of cost required to create and deliver the product?

These building blocks are laid out on a page (canvas) in a very specific way, referred to as a ‘business model canvas’. The business model canvas can be used to describe any of a wide variety of business models.

Business model canvas of Osterwalder

There are two extensions on this model. One of them is taking the “extended enterprise perspective” and is paying more attention to the partners and the customers.

Extended business model canvas of Fielt

The other one takes the issue of economic externality and sustainability into account by adding two building blocks: a societal costs and societal benefits.

Extended business model canvas from Businessmodeldesign

All summarized this canvas is a great tool for an architect to start a conversation with the business to gain a good understanding of what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve their goals.

Next time some words on business architecture …

Follow Up: Datacenters, an architecture approach Part 2

Asian Tigers still have something to learn about Green IT

Asian TigersIn Asia, the larger data centres tend to be based in the most expensive cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai. For almost ten years there is an impressive and continuous growth in data centers in the Asia-Pacific market. According to Chengyu Wu from Frost & Sullivan this growth in Asia-Pac will continue at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 14.6 percent (2009-2011). Demand for data centre hosting, Wu adds, currently exceeds supply. “In fact, over 80 percent of the major data centres in Asia-Pacific are running at close to 90 percent capacity and space is at a premium.”

While the outlook appears highly promising, data centre operators struggle with the high cost of operations which have increased exponentially in recent times. According to Frost & Sullivan director Jayesh Easwaramony, “Power costs can often account for more than 50 percent of the overall operational expenditure (OPEX) of a data centre, while real estate pricing could also seriously inflate costs.

Begin this year the ZDNet Asia IT Priorities 2010 survey showed that, the green initiatives scored the lowest as an IT priority among Asian businesses. In a recent interview of ZDNet Asia, Chris McPherson of Raritan stated that Asian companies are not yet seeing the full importance of implementing green technologies.

This is a strange thing given the incentives of expensive data center locations, the enormous power costs, and not to forget that power and cooling and floor space form together a certain data center threshold and therefore can prohibit growth. The demand for IT capacity can’t go beyond this threshold because of power shortage or overheating and/or lack of floor space. This create the risk that suddenly demand for IT capacity can’t be fulfilled and it will come to a grinding halt.

One way to “push” for green uptake, McPherson said, is to have governments either reduce subsidized power bills or increase subsidies for green energy. However, these incentives are currently slow and minimal. Analyst Chengyu Wu pointed out that discussions have centered mainly around concepts such as virtualization and utility computing emerging in the data center segment. McPherson agreed that virtualization is one way to help companies manage green costs since not as many servers need to be deployed, which consequently brings about savings in real estate expenditure. McPherson emphasized that employing information and management tools that helps companies to find out what is really happening at their device level and measure the individual energy consumption in order to make better decisions on reducing spending and maximizing savings. “The electricity bill is for the total cost of the data center, but to break that down as to what each component is costing you, it is only recently that tools are available to do so,” he said.

To use these tools, first a paradox must be solved. Because if you don’t see the issue why spending money on tools? So who starts using them? Who is aware about the issue, who is responsible, who feels the pain and take action? We need publications of real cases in reducing energy consumption and reducing energy costs in the data center environment to get things started.

P.S. Are the Asian Tigers the only one that still have something to learn about Green IT? I don’t think so …

5th Power & Cooling Conference

5th Power and Cooling conference London 2010Last week I attended (and was chairman of one of the tracks) of the Power & Cooling conference that was held at 7 and 8 october in London and organized by Broadgroup. In its fifth edition this annual global event is for CIOs, IT and Facilities leaders and Infrastructure executives who share the need for thought-provoking real-time answers to their power and cooling challenges. The participants were this year presented with an extensive and broad program detailing tested and new approaches to power, energy, cooling and Green computing. The conference was driven by the need of companies strive towards CO2 neutrality and to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiencies at every level throughout the data center.

In the presentations and the panel discussions there was much emphasis on the following topics:

– Usage and mis usage of the PUE

– The Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC)

– The gap between the world of the site infrastructure and the IT infrastructure

– Under utilization of computers / shifting focus to the demand site

– Impact of proper cooling on energy consumption

– Getting the right incentives for the right behavior

– Taking a holistic approach in solving issues

– Choosing the right data center location

From all the presentations it became clear that in fact the problem of energy consumption is not really a technical issue but instead it is an economical and behavior problem that has to be solved.

Presentations of Thom Brouillard of Datacentience, Barry Maidment of Rittal and Jeremy Hartley of eCool showed that the knowledge of rack, row (cold aisle & hot aisle) and room cooling is common knowledge. And for example in the presentation of Stephane Duproz of Telecity Paris about whitening the roof of a data center or the usage of evaporative coolers as presented by Alan Beresford of EcoCooling showed that there are very promising new cooling solutions. New research results as presented  by Chunlei Guo, University of Rochester, New York  showed the promising cooling capabilities of a new material nicked named ‘black metal’. For power, Shri Karve of APC and Roy Zeighami and Tony Harvey of Cisco demonstrated in their presentations on power quality and power capping the profound knowledge that is available in power consumption. The choice of the data center location is very important. Not only power supply or network capacity plays a role. Choosing the right location can lead to some remarkable symbiosis. Kevin Burton of Parthenon Data Centres told about the symbiosis between agriculture and IT; the tight integration between greenhouses and a datacenter based on complementary needs of warmth and electricity. Or the very innovative approach of 2OC that creates joint ventures with gas network operators around the world to generate low carbon, sustainable energy from the network operators’ pressure reduction stations. Also remarkable was the presentation of Sindre Kvalheim, CEO, Local Host, Norway, exploring the establishment of a very huge data center in a Norwegian underground mine.

If we know so much, why does it go wrong or stated otherwise why don’t we perform better?

It al starts with measuring. Measurement is knowing and by knowing we can manage. So Zahl Limbuwala, chairman of the BCS-DCSG presented about the move to global metrics for data centers. Origin and development of the PUE factor was explained on behalf of the Green Grid by Harkeeret Singh  and Vic Smith. But although everyone agreed that PUE helped to focus the discussion and that it is better to start somewhere and having the PUE is better than nothing, there still is work to be done about the right understanding and usage of PUE. Eirikur Hrafnsson, CEO and founder of Greenqloud talked about the misuse (‘greenwashing’) and explained that although the PUE says something about energy efficiency it says nothing about how green you are. This is because the PUE don’t involve the original energy source (wind, gas, coal etc.) in its calculation. Therefore he proposed the use of GPUE instead, by adding an extra factor to the PUE calculation you can see how green your energy consumption is because the carbon emission of the original energy source is incorporated in the calculation. A lot of emphasis is put on technicalities, the supply side so to say. But there is also the demand side, the business information needs and how these needs  are transformed in software and IT infrastructure. Joe Palastre CTO of  Sentilla Corporation and Harkeeret Singh of Thomson Reuters pointed out that to get things right, in terms of appropriate energy usage, you must also make improvements on the supply side by using appropriate metrics and incentives to drive the organization and thus the IT and the Facility infrastructure departments to the right direction.

Making the energy costs of IT visible to the customer was a common denominator in al the presentations on this conference. This visibility is very much needed to get awareness and the right incentives to improve energy efficiency.

Green IT is Hard

A New Book in Town

Did you already have a look at Greening.IT ?
This weekend a next public draft release of our book, on how IT can be used to build a Low-Carbon Society, will be published and can be downloaded. Our mission is to write an internationally collaborative non-profit book on Green IT in order to increase awareness of the possibilities of IT in building a Low Carbon Society.
The chapter “Why Green IT is Hard” is a personal contribution to this book. To give you some idea, here is the abstract and a word cloud:

Why Green IT is Hard

An Economic Perspective

According to the common view, Green IT comes down to implementing technical measures. The idea is that, given better power management of equipment in the workspace (such as laptops and pc’s), more efficient power usage of servers, storage and network components, virtualization of servers, better power and cooling management in data centers, the problems can be solved. In this article, But is this really true? The reason IT is not green at this moment is at least as much due to perverse incentives. Green IT is about power and money, about raising barriers to trade, segmenting markets and differentiating products. Many of the problems can be explained more clearly and convincingly using the language of economics:  asymmetric information, moral hazard, switching and transaction costs and innovation. Green IT is not a technical problem but an economical problem to be solved.

Why Green IT is Hard

A word cloud of the chapter Why Green IT is Hard

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