Tech Talk
Tech Talk: Greening Technology

Tech Talk: Greening Technology

Comprehensive efforts by information technology (IT) departments are underway to increase efficiency and reduce energy cost. Computing has become a large part of the IT energy-use footprint, and finding sustainable energy and conservation solutions is a challenge. Computers and other electronics are the fastest-growing — and among the least recycled — components of the waste system; about 2 million tons of used electronics are discarded yearly.

IT departments constantly are being asked to do more with fewer personnel and less money: Do it more efficiently without sacrificing quality, reduce waste and become more environmentally friendly. Given all this, how can IT scale up and "green up" at the same time?

  • Servers. The number of support servers in most school districts and campuses is increasing. However, many institutions have more servers than they need. According to industry estimates, servers typically operate at only 5 to 20 percent of full processing capacity. Data centers are spending lots of money powering and cooling machines that individually aren't doing much useful work. Some are sitting idle.

    Identifying the most significant problems is tricky; finding the best, most cost-effective solutions is trickier still. Different kinds of power supply can reduce inefficiencies, but software also can track energy consumption and manage hardware more efficiently. Virtualization software can get more out of servers, and schools are able to use cloud computing services instead. Cooling can be localized, or facilities can be redesigned to make better use of existing technologies.

    Another way to address this problem is through server consolidation and virtualization. Servers are getting faster, but that also means that they require more power. To reduce the amount of electricity needed, placing multiple applications on single servers, buying greener machines and using virtualization techniques to run multiple operating systems on single servers can be a valid approach. In this more efficient architecture, storage unneeded by one application can be used by another.

  • Computers. New research on laptop power usage indicates that laptops consume far less energy than desktops. As more schools buy laptops over desktops to save space, less energy use is yet another reason why a laptop may be the best choice.

  • Green practices. Sustainable practices are harder to define than the hardware and software. The item to consider most carefully is how to reduce waste. If institutions use their systems in a lean way, they will save on resources, which will save on money — and the systems most likely will run more efficiently. So, schools are saving on money, time and the environment all at the same time.

Here are a few areas to explore with regard to systems and operations:

  • Examine data storage. Consider carefully what to keep and where to keep it.

  • Reduce printer usage. Consolidate hardware, use auto-duplexing (printing on both sides), and use print-management software.

  • Put systems to sleep. Use computer power management.

  • Extend the life of hardware.

  • Explore cloud computing.

The move from "thinking green" to "embracing green technology" can be either a difficult changeover or a seamless transition, depending on your mindset and resources. Going green doesn't necessarily mean spending more money — it often can save dollars. Use greener software, buy greener hardware, and set up defaults to stop waste automatically rather than asking teachers and staff to change.

Changing the situation generally is easier than changing behaviors. We no longer can continue borrowing from the generations of tomorrow to finance the wants of today.

C. William Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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