Monday, October 30, 2006

New Energy Star Requirements

The EPA has just upgraded the energy star requirements for PCs. It's the first upgrade since July of 2000 for the standard. The article I read made it seem like a joint announcement with Intel, who is clearly the worst offender when it comes to processor power usage. The spec is here, the list of qualified computers is here. Guess who makes most of the computer on the list? Our old friend Apple, who Greenpeace just bashed up a bit for being non-eco friendly. The irony abounds.

Plan of Attack

Lem Bingley has some words of wisdom concerning how go about getting your green purchasing plan going. For starters, don't let employees get stuck in the 'the problem is too big, we can't fix it' mentality. Every little bit helps. Lem also has these observations:

IT managers wanting to make a difference face two problems. Firstly, corporate bean counters won't wear purchases made on the basis of a fondness for hugging trees. This is why the WEEE directive is welcome, because it connects green issues to concrete cost factors. But the bigger problem is that environmental impacts are very hard to quantify.

The first I have covered repeatedly; profit and environmentalism have merged (See Yogurt Bombs.) The second is quantification of the benefits. Bingley makes a great analogy to cars by mentioning that the most enviromentally friendly car you can buy in America is the Jeep Wrangler because it is locally made and produced. Obviously the mantra Reduce, Reuse, Recycle applies here. You might want to read these tips on taking the lead on green IT as well.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Joke that has Come True

many years ago I had an NT 4 Adminstration Manual written by Mark Minasi. In one part, he was talking about how you will need to create swap files on your hard disk because you couldn't buy enough memory. He joked "Where are those 1 GB chips?"

Well, they are here. And the second joke is that in order to run Vista you will need two of them. Obviously the start of the next cycle where IT managers are persuaded to throw out every single machine the company owns to install the new operating system.

Sadly, there are a lot of middle managers in IT who love this stuff - crack open the pork barrel, lots more money coming in for hardware and software upgrades, and our staffs will be busy for the next year too. This really does nothing except further turn IT into a janitorial function; what they really should be doing is being the spearpoint for other technologies such as solar, wind, alternative energies, because they are the group that is most equipped to embark on these endeavors. Upgrading to Vista? The joke is almost certainly on you.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What the Other Guy is Doing

A recent survey I read on environmentalism suggested that one of the biggest factors in getting companies to switch to green technologies is whether or not their competitors have switched. This is a post to let you know what the other guy is doing.

In mobile phones Recellular is recycling 75,000 cell phones a week and making a pretty penny. Envirophone is doing similar work. Nokia is leading the charge to improve environmental awareness around phones and promote recycling.

On the big business side, Steve Forbes has now come out backing green business, citing the simple fact that when people start making more money, they are less likely to tolerate living in filth. He cites China and India as two booming markets. Wall Street is going green, using huge chillers to create ice at night and dump into the cooling systems by day. It's going to pay for itself to 2.5 years.

Sun was recognized as one of the best places for commuters. They are also investing heavily in Open Source and Grid Computing. Citrix has announced their dynamic desktop initiative, which is going to dramatically cut into the cost of upgrading to Vista, estimated to be between $3250 and $5000 per user. And Logicalis has cut the cost of their green training programs.

Rackspace is now offering carbon neutral web hosting, and IBM is tackling the power and cooling problem. Voltaire has come out with a softare product to dynamically manage grid computing environments, and the Penguin Approved logo has been rolled out in England to designate carbon neutral products. Finally, the picture above, Via and Everex have launched the most energy efficient notebook ever.

Where are you?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Sun Shines Black

This is Jonathan's Schwartz posting on the Sun BlackBox. For those out of the know, the BlackBox is a portable data center, a shipping container packed with servers and associated gear. You can deploy it in weeks.

He makes some pretty good points, namely, what is your company going to do when you can't afford the power to run your machines?
It's already happening in England, where the rise in power costs will make the UK the most expensive place in Europe to run a data center.

If you havent staked out your power supply for the next 30 years, you are probably already in tepid water. It explains the mad scramble in the US Northwest to get the cheap hydro up there, and also explains why Google is
going solar in a big way. I would not be surprised if you see Microsoft or Google buying a utility or two in the next few years. That's when things will get really interesting; power computers, or lights for residential comsumers?

There is something about the BlackBox that is ominious. Essentially, what Sun is saying is that (gulp) you may need to move your computing power around physically in the next few years. This is such a new concept it boggles the mind. We alway assumed that we could just move our computing resources around virtually, and indeed we can, now. But when the network is down, say, one day a week, because there's no juice to run it, there is going to be disruption.

I'm telling you, Sun just blows me away with this stuff.

Energy Tools

Here's a quick and easy site to convert to your computer and monitor energy usage into CO2, cars, and acres of trees. Based on the documentation provided, I believe the calculations are fairly accurate.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Too Many Dirty Words

I constantly try and find 'ins' to get green computing into computing environments. As I've said before, one of the biggest problems is the convincing part of the equation, and I'm not convinced that calling 'green computing' 'green computing' helps. This is because the 'green' already has a lot of connotations, not all of them bonuses.

Take 'save the whales', for example. This is a terrible slogan on so many levels. First, it has the word 'save' in it. No one wants to save anything, because saving things is full of taking dangerous risks, being thrifty, or being brave, all of which just aren't available in any great quantity at a given moment. Second, it has the word 'whale' in it. Fact is, not a lot of people know about whales except that they are big, and I bet less than 1 percent of people have actually seen one. So, 'Save the Whales' comes down to doing something that you really don't want to do, to something that you really don't have any familiarity with, except you know that it's large.

But hope is not lost - we have folks like George Lakoff who have made a career out of reframing these slogans, and his article of Winning Words is well worth reading. George explains why phrases like 'Tax Relief' and 'Compassionate Conservatives' have solidifed their causes. This, followed up with the Reframing the Planet discussion, makes for some tasty reading. Here's a quote:

We need to constantly and consistently frame environmental protection as the path to prosperity -- and not in any abstract "quality of life" sense, but in real dollars-in-your-pocket terms. Environmental protection is the path to create clean power industries, hybrid car industries, green building industries. There is no future which is bright without being green. We must show our opponents to be what they are: job-killers, willing to mortgage both the future of the country and the health of the planet.

Now just rephrase this as:

We need to constantly and consistently frame green computing as the path to prosperity -- and not in any abstract "quality of life" sense, but in real dollars-in-your-pocket terms. Green computing is the path to clean technologies, industry breakthroughs, cost efficient buildings. There is no future for our company which is bright without being green. We must show our competitors to be what they are: job-killers, resource wasters. willing to mortgage both the future of the country and the health of the planet.

There's a lot more.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Tiger Strides

is what is needed when it comes to adopting open source in the workplace. This fellow recommends switching out Powerpoint for Impress; however, the comments also have some great ideas. One is starting with firefox, that browser thing. Yes, yes, I know we have all used it for years now, but most people don't even know what it is. Or how about embracing a few open standards?

If you want tiger strides, you have to go where the tigers are, India. Kerala is a nation state there that has decided to forsake windows entirely. And that guy in the corner doesn't think its such a bad idea.

Friday, October 20, 2006

It's a Federal Matter Now

Now that we have an eWaste Working Group in congress to try and figure out what to do with the four million pounds of ewaste that are going into landfills each year. Better than a patchwork approach? Depends on how green you are - jumping through 50 (state) hoops is a lot harder than jumping one (federal) one. Kudos to Tom Joseph of Time Warner, mentioned in the article, for being the first IT manager I have even seen on record saying that he uses equipment until it burns up. You heard it hear first.

Word, Jerry

Lest we all forget, the environmental movement has merged with the money-making movement. This shortie from Jerry Bowles is summed up in the following quote:

Show me a good corporate environmental citizen and I’ll show you a company that is more concerned about cutting costs or saving money by eliminating waste from its processes than it is about melting Arctic ice floes. This is not a criticism. As a motivator of human behavior, short-term payback trumps long-range fear any day of the week. We all love our grandchildren, but what the heck.

Just brings the point back once again that what the hell is business doing out there? Most execs seem dedicated to do nothing more than analyze solutions that actually implement them. Even when the solutions will save them money. And if I use any more italics in this post I'll go nuts.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Uhhh, Because We Can Department

Here's a novel idea, powering your computing cluster using vegetable oil. From the article it sound pretty impressive:

The cluster from the Maker Faire consisted of 31 PCs with a sum total processing power of 22.7 GHz and an average 733 MHz per node. Their peak power consumption on their vegetable-oil-powered generator was about 30A.

I'm not sure how scaleable this is, but if the nuclear winter comes, I'm sure this will be a whole lot more popular.

One More Use for Cardboard

is these stylish computer cases made out of this tried and true material. It's even customizable with one's initials or logo. No price given.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Saturday, October 14, 2006

5 Gigawatts!!!

It's the Internet Cloud, a formless mass out there that you rely upon more and more every day to do your work. Think Google - like, what would you
do without it? Of course you can't, but these massive 'applications' shall we call them are giving rise to a whole bunch of new rules about how things are going to look in the future.
There's so many good quotes in this one, but this is one of my favorites:

Google's success stems from more than foresight, ingenuity, and chutzpah. In every era, the winning companies are those that waste what is abundant – as signalled by precipitously declining prices – in order to save what is scarce. Google has been profligate with the surfeits of data storage and backbone bandwidth. Conversely, it has been parsimonious with that most precious of resources, users' patience.

So Google is wasting storage and bandwidth, so what? That's virtually the definition of every IT department out there. Here I think is the key though - they are wasting now to create the most efficient thing out there in the future. From a green perspective, that is a good thing, that's it. Imagine if every email account in the world was run by a single provider, that would be an incredible savings over the crazyiness of today, where people email videos back and forth to each other regularly.

There are a few other temporary problems, like the fact that this infrastructure consumes about 5 gigawatts of power per year, enough to power Las Vegas. But this is merely cost accounting, and it's really just a cost of doing business - when Microsoft started supporting 820 million email and messaging accounts, their power usage increased ten fold too.

But the final kicker is that there is no way to stop these players from finishing the game - it must happen, it is the most efficient way to deliver service. It is one might say a virtual monopoly. And contrary to what others might believe, we are all going to benefit from it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

It's Via, By a Tree

Via seems to be really taking the lead in the processor market (green speaking) with their 'carbon free' processors. I blogged before that Via has paying for the carbon offsets of the chip if you bought a Via processor; now they are paying for the carbon offsets for the whole PC. Wowza. Intel? Who are they? Oh yeah, those guys that make the 145 Watt processors.

Music To My Ears

EnergyStar has posted a podcast series on the energy all of our gadgets use and what we can do help help reduce energy use. A few nice factiods here, one of which being that are 'gadget energy use' has jumped from 5 percent in 1980 to about 13 percent today. A nice listen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

All Right, Smart Guys

I worked at a public university, Rutgers, for six years. I had a great time there except there's one thing about educational bodies when it comes to computing; they have no money. This is a good/bad arrangement - good because it encourages you to spend one's resources very efficiently, bad because, well, there's just never enough resources.

The exciting thing about this though is that we have some great examples appearing in universities, who are really taking the leadership for the green computing movement. Here's a nice one on how a lot of universities are switching to Sun and open source because its cheaper. But the real laurels go to (who else?) Harvard who has just launched a green campus loan fund. The deal here is that Harvard will fund green initiatives, with the fundee paying thm back in dollars saved. It's a great idea, those Harvard guys. All right.

How Far the Mighty Have Fallen

From the bitter irony department... Apparently the United States is now being used as a dumping ground for thousands of toxic products that can't be sold in other places in the world to due environmental regulations. The article kicks off with a discussion of how plywood is being imported from China with formaldehyde in it. Ironically, the stuff is outlawed in China, but folks in LA are happy to build $75,000 dollar kitchens out of it. The article is short but our old friend the Treo 650 is mentioned (banned in Europe because of RoHS).

The other big shocker for me was the fact that the EPA has banned no chemical since going after asbestos 18 years ago - and failing.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pretty Toys (With No Wires)

Thoreau was fascinated with technology, much like I and several billions other that are as well, though he realized that such excitement could be counterproductive. Witness a few quotes:

perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility. (Walden, 21)

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. (Walden, 52)

Looks like we moved on from there, as the plans for the worldwide WiFi network get going. There are several learned reports on the benefits of such a system, on this such as this one from Harvard), not free, and this one, yes free. Strangely, there is not a single doubt in my mind that it will be constructed, and yet like Thoreau I must ask - what will it be good for? And will it add more than never having been invented in the first place?

Since I just recently moved, I just had the chance to realize what it's like without communication. I have to say that this move was relatively easier than our last move six years ago. One of the big reasons for that is the cell phone - at that time, we only had one which left one vital party (either my wife or myself) out of the loop. With two cell phones, you always know what's going on, and you save a lot of wasted trips to the hardware store, the cardboard box store, etc.

The other events which happened is that we had no Internet when we got to our new place. This, in and of itself, is an absurdity only dictated by cable companies who feel they must shut off your service and then send someone to reconnect you. But I have to say that it was hard to not have the Internet (disclaimer: my wife thinks I'm addicted.) Here's a simple example - say you need to find the closest Home Depot to get something for the new house, what do you do? Look in up on Google Maps, of course. Except you don't have the Internet, and you don't have a phone book either, nor anyone you can easily ask. Suddenly, it seems like a real pain to find the Home Depot.

My minor disaster is not the only one - looks like installing web access in disaster areas is one of the best things you can spend your money on, unlike well, bingo and puppet shows. Sometimes we only realize the importance of something when it's gone.

Go Green, Young Man

Here's a guy who gets it, Craig Larsheid of the USPS. He's a guy that runs thousands of UNIX servers to handle mission critical applications. And he thinks about the environment every step of the way. Is he a treehugger?

He may be, he may be. But he also realizes it's the best way to do his job, particularly when other 'conventional' options are running out. Real estate, for example. As indicated in the post:

“We have finite real estate [to house servers] and a finite amount of cooling we can use,” Larscheid said. “So environmentally conscious [methods have] to be the way to go.”

Obviously this says it all, Craig doesn't feel too comfortable asking corporate to build another air conditioned building to house his servers. I wonder how many other IT managers are in the same boat? (hint: more and more.)

Good thing Craig isn't alone. Gartner has projected that up to 50 percent of the IT budget will be for electricity in the future, way up from the 10 percent it is right now (20 percent if you count the cooling). The result will be that the Age of Innocence enjoyed by IT from the mid-1990's onwards will vanish, and finally we will have some cost accounting for IT projects. The first step? Make your IT department responsible for their energy use.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Good Bet for a Big Battle

With a lot of issues, no one seems to care too much until they can actually measure some results that are just god-awful. For example, the fact that there are about 500 million computers in need of recycling in America doesn't really bother anyone too much, because they are all spread out. But if we had a big pile of them (maybe just 1 million) in one place, then that would be a big problem. Just look at my tire fire here and you will instantly see the similarity. We have million of tires in America too, but they aren't really a problem until you put a lot of them in one place and they catch fire.

For green computing, I'm betting that data centers will be the tire fires of the IT world. First of all, they are being constructed like mad, mostly in the Northwest where there is lots of cheap hydroelectric power (there are other good places too.). Now, with a data center, what you are doing in putting a lot of computers in one place, so of course your monthly utility bills are about the cost of putting a elephant in orbit around the moon, every month. Not only that, but these centers are ususally mission critical, meaning they have to be up all of the time.

The second big trend is that companies are consolidating their data center to save money, particularly money related to real estate. Look at HP's new worldwide iniative to consolidate 85 data centers around to world into six, saving about a billion per year. So now we have set the stage for crisis - lots of mission critical stuff in one place, all of which needs a lot of juice to keep it up and running 24/7. Add to that the fact that companies spent millions already consolidating their operations.

Now all we need is for someone to strike a match. How about the U.S. Government, who is not only drafting legislation to look at power consumption in data centers, but has also authorized the EPA to come up with a server efficiency standard. They are starting with servers now, but storage equipment won't be far behind.

All of this suggests to me that there could be some very rapid changes in data center design, server design and power usage. Woe be the IT manager trying to run P4 processors in downtown Manhattan on 10,000 servers, you might be in for quite a ride, particularly when you think that the really big players are scarfing up all the best sites (and energy) right now. And when the government tells you to shut down your mission critical data center because its not efficient enough, that could flatline your business.

No More Paper, Books, Dirty Looks

Envirowise has released a study claiming that the average office worker uses 50 sheets of paper a day. Furthermore, companies without printing policies continue to increase their paper usage by 20 percent a year. Compounding the problem is the fact that 80 percent of companies don't even know what they spend on paper every year!

However, the bright news is that companies with printing policies can reduce their usage to as low as 15 sheets per day; that's a 70 percent reduction. I have done several baseline studies on printing for firms, and generally you can't get below 3 cents a sheet for black and white printing. It can be much, much more than this, particularly if you own the equipment and have to pay for service. Color printing varies considerably but it is possible to get as low as 12-15 cents per sheet. Printing is similar to energy use is that it is generally considered to be 'free' for all intents and purposes, but an awareness campaign will go a long way towards conservation.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Let Me Ask you This

Sorry I was off for a few days, we moved to Boston. It was fine except that the truck broke down on the way; thank god for inflatable beds.

But let me ask you this - what's it going to take before IT departments start doing something about the energy they use? How about letting them know that on average about 10 percent of their company's energy budget is blown on powering computer equipment? And, oftentimes, it can be more like 20 to 30 percent after taking into account all the UPS, routers, switches, blah, blah blah. How about letting them know that this could go up to 50 percent in a few years. Here's some quick math for you - the average building uses maybe 8-9 kilowatts per square foot per year, so computer equipment might be 1 kilowatt on average, maybe 2. For a 100,000 square foot building, that's 100,000 kilowatts, about $10,000. That's average usage, not including data centers and server rooms. Let me ask you this - how would you deal if that number went to $50,000?