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Eco-Friendly IT Infrastructure

We live and work in a changing world—one of technological marvels that just a few short years ago would have seemed akin to magic and one whose climate is being vastly altered by our use and abuse of the Earth’s resources. A heating planet has been a call to arms for those of us who believe in the evidence before us and want to see Earth remain habitable for humans farther into the future.

It behooves us as a species, as well as the decision makers within the IT industry, to seek to improve our processes in order to ensure the longevity of humans. For the creative at heart, being responsible stewards of our planet not only works in concert with succeeding in industry; it can also be the cornerstone upon which that success is built.

With a broad range of emerging technologies as well as the refocus of existing technologies toward that purpose, it is becoming easier and easier for a conservation-minded company to tread lighter while simultaneously expanding their reach and profits.

IBM and Efficiency

IBM has worked hard to make existing technologies tread a bit more lightly on the environment. Every iteration of IBM Power Systems* does more with less, vastly improving computing power while simultaneously pushing the machines to use resources more efficiently. Each cycle of processing uses less electricity, generates less heat and completes its task quicker than the previous generation.

With each new hardware release, IBM is enabling the managers of these data centers to carve up smaller and smaller pieces of a single machine that many companies run their daily operations on. This means that the one emerging technology that has proven vastly useful in this race for a smaller carbon footprint has been the development of the cloud as a way to offload data storage and processing onto a dedicated or shared server housed within a community of other servers.

This allows companies to take advantage of economies of scale by sharing resources, infrastructure and energy in a productive fashion. As data centers add servers to existing infrastructure, they see a reduction in the amount of resources needed to house those machines. The amount of energy spent cooling two servers in a room is far less than double the amount spent cooling one server sitting alone on an elevated floor in a well-lit room that’s equipped with an argon gas fire suppression system. Once you start scaling this infrastructure for hundreds or thousands of servers, the amount of energy required for the infrastructure becomes infinitesimal for each individual server added to the legion that already exists in the same room.

Smarter Data Centers

By integrating sound environmental design into the original construction and control systems of the data center, cloud hosts can even further reduce the carbon footprint of each additional cycle of processing. Utilizing efficient building management concepts such as computer-controlled thermostats, intelligent layouts to balance heat dispersion and smarter architectural designs, such as passive solar heating, can push the efficiency even further.

Aggregating servers into centralized locations also allows for economies of scale to come into effect when powering the servers themselves. For example, one data center housing servers supplying 100 different companies with storage and computing power can utilize one single form of power instead of 100 separate companies acquiring electricity from 100 different providers.

These data centers, especially if built in municipalities that offer renewable energy—near wind generation facilities in the breezier areas and solar farms in sunnier climes—could shorten the distance between production and use, which reduces loss due to wire length. If the data center managers were so inclined, the roofs of the facilities housing the systems themselves could be covered in solar panels feeding energy back to the grid or directly to the servers housed inside.

Virtual Offices

Sharing resources in a centralized data center has essentially made employees of companies that utilize the cloud for their storage and processing into remote workers. Offices housing anyone whose job exists entirely on that machine are now free to perform this work from home without any losses in productivity, unless a given task requires collaboration in person.

The concept of virtual offices and working from home may seem like a counterpoint to the aforementioned idea of sharing resources. Offices can be seen as pooled resources, but their efficiency diminishes when you consider that employees’ homes are likely sitting empty and climate controlled. The resources used to construct, power, cool, secure, furnish, repair and clean office buildings become wasteful when the technologies exist to allow employees to sit in their homes.

They can VPN into their centrally housed servers, work with teams via video conferencing and screen sharing, share data via cloud services, and essentially continue to do their day-to-day operations from the comfort of their own homes. This also frees up employees to live and work where they please and allows companies to recruit without concern for locality.

Reducing the Carbon Footprint

It’s easy to see harnessing existing technologies and taking advantage of advances in building and infrastructure design, a company can drastically reduce their carbon footprint while simultaneously remaining competitive, satisfying shareholders and maintaining their relevance in a changing world.