There’s little doubt that the IT world has taken environmental issues to heart. Companies are now falling over themselves to talk up their green credentials even though we’ve yet to see too many executives hugging trees.
In fact, many of the so-called green initiatives are little more than marketing hype where planting a tree or two can offset the carbon emissions of a single piece of kit but there are some companies who genuinely looking at the bigger picture and are doing their best to reduce the carbon footprints of their products.
However, even this approach to green computing isn’t really tackling the real issue, says Chris Gabriel, head of strategy and solutions for Logicalis. What people really mean by green computing is efficient computing, he says.
"IT is a supply-chain issue; it should be serving the business. If people stopped looking at IT as a silo-led piece of technology and started treating it as part of the supply chain, then businesses would become more efficient," he adds.
The problem is that the very notion of environmental change has altered the way that we perceive many aspects of our life – IT being one of them. "If global warming, as an issue, would disappear to tomorrow and we all had barbecues every night, burning our patio heaters, we’d still be faced with the fact that we’re running servers at five or six percent of their capacity. It’s not about green, it’s about being efficient," he claims.
Gabriel takes pains to point out that the whole green debate is definitely one that’s worth having, if only for the fact that it has brought issues such as power management and server efficiency to the forefront. The fact that such topics are being debated and the accompanying rises in energy prices means that heavy users of IT, such as banks are looking more closely at the power consumption that IT takes. And, he says, that this is beginning to have an impact on the way that these users make their decisions.
"Take one recent example that we were involved in," he says. "One of our customers was faced with this problem of becoming more efficient. This was a company with some 200 Unix servers and was looking to reduce that. There was one option to reduce that 200 to 40 more efficient Unix servers but then we presented them with the possibility of using the company’s mainframe with a Linux box attached – and that was an even more efficient use of resources." He uses this as an example of the way that companies are beginning to debate the nature of efficiency within their IT infrastructures: a debate that companies simply weren’t having five years ago.
Gabriel believes that it makes simple business sense and that the whole green computing brouhaha has been little more than a smokescreen. "If I buy the most power-efficient computer in the world and use it as just five percent of capacity, then how efficient am I really being?" he asks. "It’s just like buying the world’s most efficient fridge and then keeping just a lemon in it."
He realises that one of the problems faced by many users is the way that servers have become more power-hungry because they’ve been forced to deal with ever more memory-hungry applications. "I think that a lot of our customers would love to ask the likes of Microsoft, Oracle, SAP etc just how efficient is their coding. Because they’re forced to buy bigger and bigger boxes just to cope with the additional functionality of newer versions of software." IT efficiency should cover the software vendors as well for the phrase to mean anything.
Finally, there’s the issue of physical space. Many of London’s leading hosting companies are running desperately short of space to put more servers and there’s a problem with power supply. “One of customers tried to get some server space at one hosting company and was told that the nearest place to London was Milton Keynes,” Gabriel says. “I also know of one company that is looking to be hosted in eastern Europe – if you can’t be hosted locally than you might as well move somewhere where the costs are going to be a lot cheaper.”
He says that one way round the situation would be for hosting companies to charge more for dedicated servers. Currently, there’s some reluctance to share servers but customers should be told that if they want a dedicated server, they should pay a premium for it. Gabriel says that he already knows of one company that charges four times as much for a dedicated server than a shared one.
It’s initiatives like this that show the way forward for companies looking to get to grips with making IT systems more efficient. While there are so many companies climbing on the green bandwagon, environmental issues and IT efficiency are always going to be interlinked but Gabriel raises some valid points. Up until now, many users have been operating on the basis that it’s always possible to add other servers. Slowly, there’s a realisation that this is not good enough and the debate over what IT efficiency means is set to continue for many years yet.