are Apple and Facebook starting a new Green IT movement?

Green IT looks to be going ever more mainstream. In recent weeks, Facebook and Apple have both announced pledges to invest more into Green IT, starting with their own businesses.

Facebook is enhancing its Open Compute Project, by introducing the Open Rack, which is designed to bring cheaper hardware to IT teams, whilst freeing them from vendor lock-in and giving them some more efficient kit.

Meanwhile, Apple has confirmed it is using fuel cells from Bloom Energy, which consume methane generated by rotting waste in landfills, to power a data centre. The iPhone maker has also promised its next data centre will be 100% powered by renewable energy.

Their investment pledges come just a month after UN estimates found that the smart use of information and communication technologies (ICT) could save 15% of global emissions – about 7.8 gigatons of CO2 a year – by 2020, with only a small increase in ICT’s own emissions.

It also found that ICT could close the increasing gap between the ambitions of countries to cut their carbon emissions and the action needed to stave off a 2°C temperature rise this century by up to 87%.

So, will these deals set a precedent for mainstream Green IT?

Facebook thinks the extra room allowed in Open Rack deployments will make for greater efficiency. “For example, the wider equipment bay allows for implementations with three motherboards or five 3.5-inch disk drives side by side in one chassis,” said Open Compute’s Giovanni Coglitore, in a blog post.

Meanwhile Apple is clearly learning from its rivals over how to be successful in introducing eco-friendly computing options. Landfills were named as a good source of methane in a recent Microsoft report which suggested data centres should be co-located with landfills or sites where agricultural waste is processed to produce methane.

Critics say that it is more important than ever to make sure your network and data center is running efficiently as part of a green networking strategy to cut hardware and software costs, save on power and contribute to corporate environmental policies.

However, green IT must make financial sense for organizations, especially as legacy environments are already being made as efficient as possible through virtualization technologies, such as increasing server processing capacity use from below 10% to 75% and over.

Energy continues to be a pressure point for IT departments. Electricity rarely seems to get cheaper, and as we cram more computing equipment into each square foot of our data centres, getting the energy into the building to run it all becomes an increasingly challenging prospect.

For example Syracuse University operates a data centre using micro turbines that not only power the racks inside the facility, but also cool them down.

a long time coming…

Back in 2010, Axel Haentjens, currently Vice President Cloud Computing at Orange Business, wrote a blog suggestion: “Green IT has indeed arrived at a turning point. No longer simply something to talk about when discussing sustainable development, it's now becoming a critical tool for companies who plan to set up a coherent and quantifiable strategy for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.”

He added the move would see businesses shift thinking “from "Green IT" to "IT for Green", signifying a positive and measurable contribution by Information Systems to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Two years later and governments across the world are piling the pressure on citizens and businesses to be more environmentally friendly than ever before – starting with turning off all machines in offices and gradually extending to sustainable technology replacing legacy systems in the years to come.

Gartner reckons that around 31% of worldwide ICT energy usage can be attributed to PCs and associated peripherals and advocates a seven-point plan to manage their energy usage more effectively. Yet, a recent ranking of the largest IT companies by Greenpeace on their energy and climate-related activities reflects this growing concern. It suggests that the industry should not only minimize the impact of its operations but also play an active role in helping other industries do so.

Evidently, Facebook and Apple’s steps should be lauded for enhancing awareness of Green IT across the industry and trying to make businesses follow suit. Yet, it remains to be seen if this will really ignite a desire among IT managers to make a change in 2012.

What are your plans? Will you look to be more green in your business or are economic woes still too prevalent to follow the Silicon Valley giant’s suit?


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Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.