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December 22, 2015updated 28 Mar 2017 5:33pm

Environmental changes and green IT

By John Oates

The landmark United Nations backed Paris Agreement signed in December is a major change to global attitudes to climate change and environmental protection.

The arguments over the details of the Paris deal will continue for some time. Depending on your point of view the decision to restrict temperature rises to less than 2 degrees Celsius are either not doing enough to combat climate change or an unreasonable restriction.

What ever your view we can probably agree that getting almost 200 countries in one room to agree anything at all is pretty close to a miracle.

And we can probably also agree that it marks a big step for pushing environmental concerns to the centre of political and business agendas.

Technology of various kinds will play a big role in this. Bill Gates is leading a huge innovation project Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which includes backing from HP Enterprise, looking at accelerating innovation and development of cleaner energy sources.

The other side of the coin is in energy consumption – and it is here that enterprise IT will certainly feel the pressure to change.

Green IT is nothing new of course – but political changes are now matching technology advances to allow businesses to make real improvements to the environmental impact of their data centres and the rest of their technology estate.

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Exact figures vary but most agree that enterprise data centres and IT infrastructure use about ten per cent of all the world’s electricity.

IT managers and directors have always kept pressure on this figure in order to cut costs or course. But changes to environmental legislation will likely mean an even bigger financial win for companies working hard to cut energy consumption.

At HP Enterprise’s recent Discover event we heard from DS Virgin Racing’s Formula E team. They use data analytics, based on Autonomy software, to not only improve the car’s performance but also look at fan engagement and social media use to increase fans’ involvement.

Virgin chose HPE’s Moonshot servers to run their systems. It uses 60 per cent less energy than comparable systems. The system is built using mobile chipsets which means there are also space savings – vital for a race team which needs to shift hardware from racetrack to racetrack around the world. Smaller servers mean savings in shipping costs.

It is not only servers and chipsets which can be improved.

Storage – moving away from traditional disc drives either to more exotic drives or to solid state devices not only slashes power consumption but also reduces the need for energy eating cooling systems in data centres.

Internal IT is just part of the picture of course. More scrutiny of IT’s environmental impact will also mean asking questions of your suppliers.

Unfortunately putting services into the cloud doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t any energy consumed. We’re better there’ll be an increase in ‘green cloud’ providers – but look carefully at any claims made.

Pressure will go up and down the supply chain – chances are your customers will be looking at your environmental impact too.

Although the Paris deal doesn’t yet include any legally binding demands on business there will be close scrutiny from watchdogs, environmental organisations and shareholder groups.

The details of how the Paris agreement will be put into effect are still to be worked out it could be that individual countries pass laws to force businesses to act.

But whatever is decided you can be sure that financial and public pressure on businesses to reduce energy use are only going to increase. The good news is that any improvement will also bring more business benefits than just a lower electricity bill.

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