The greening of the technology industry is a trend thats developing with impressive velocity, and with good reason.
According to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, e-waste is the fastest-growing part of the waste stream, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates e-waste accounts for 2 percent of the municipal solid waste stream in the United States.
Whats more, the toxicity of many materials that drive modern IT operations means that e-waste can end up exacting a higher toll on public health than its 2 percent share would suggest. More than 1,000 chemicals used during electronics production, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and other illnesses.
Meanwhile, now that technology is as essential to enterprises as the air we breathe, the demand on our power grids has forced technology companies to begin creating and manufacturing more energy-efficient and sustainable products to reduce power consumption.
Certainly, there are environmental reasons for going green, but a green focus also can result in significant savings. Whereas in 1996, when IT departments spent 17 cents of every dollar powering and cooling a new server, IT departments 10 years later were shelling out 48 cents per dollar, according to a September 2006 IDC report. IDC also predicts that number will grow to 70 cents per dollar by 2010. Whatever the goals, IT managers have more options than ever for getting their companies thinking and acting green. eWeek Labs has created the following guide that will help make your company a better friend not only to the planet but also to your organizations pocketbook.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition estimates there are 500 million obsolete computers in the United States, and 130 million cell phones are thrown out every year.
Indeed, e-waste is a major problem that can no longer be resolved by tossing end-of-life electronics into a nearby trash bin or landfill.
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Both the EPA and some state environmental agencies mandate the proper disposal of e-waste. For example, Californias Department of Toxic Substances Control requires companies to manage the disposal of CRTs with the same caution and care as they would hazardous waste. Meanwhile, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives-HR 233, also known as the National Computer Recycling Act-would establish an advanced recycling fee of as much as $10 on desktop computers, monitors, laptops and other electronics. The money collected would be?Ã¶?Ã§?Ãgranted to organizations, local?Ã¶?Ã§?Ãgovernments and individuals to help encourage collection and recycling of products.
Companies need to create a recycling plan that will address equipment obsolescence. This includes figuring the costs of recycling into your technology budget.
“IT managers need to start allocating money for recycling in their IT budgets,” said James Kao, founder of San Francisco-based electronics recycling company GreenCitizen. “We need to start changing our mind-set. Disposal costs need to be built into the budget.”
GreenCitizen is one of several organizations that host drop-off locations for e-waste or provide pickup services for obsolete equipment.
GreenCitizen recycles a wide range of electronics and components for free, including computer monitors, laptops, inkjet printers and cartridges, and cell phones. The group also provides e-waste pickup service to businesses for a fee.
At GreenCitizen, discarded equipment is tracked in a comprehensive database, providing information to manufacturers that links recycling behavior to a products end of life.
GreenCitizen also provides this tracking information, by request, to its client companies. To find an environmentally responsible recycling center near you, check out two Web sites recommended by the EPA: the Electronic Industries Alliance site and the International Association of Electronics Recyclers site.
You can also hold your hardware vendors responsible for recycling and disposal.
For example, both Sun Microsystems and Microsoft sponsor active recycling and reuse programs designed to keep electronics out of the waste stream. At Sun, customers can participate in the companys hardware upgrade program, where they can return end-of-life equipment at no cost. Sun then ships the equipment to a third-party vendor, which dismantles the equipment and returns any useful parts to Sun.
Over at Apple, officials estimate that the company recycled 13 million pounds of e-waste in 2006, the equivalent of 9.5 percent of the weight of all Apple products sold since 2000. Apple plans to increase that percentage to 13 percent this year and to 20 percent in 2008.
Apple also processes all its e-waste in the United States to ensure that it isnt improperly?Ã¶?Ã§?Ãrecycled overseas, where less stringent regulations have resulted in polluted land, air and water. Both the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Basel Action Network, a global environmental watchdog group, estimate that between 50 and 80 percent of e-waste generated in the United States is recycled or discarded overseas.
Of course, you can also donate used (but useful) equipment, but make sure that any machines you donate are wiped clean of any potentially sensitive data.
The EPA highly recommends donation of used electronics, and the 21st Century Classrooms Act for Private Technology was created in 1998 to provide tax incentives to large businesses that donate old equipment to public and private schools.
Its important, however, to work with technology specialists at the school or district to which you plan to donate to ensure that they can actually use the equipment and have the staff to support it.
Power is costly, and, as weve seen lately, those costs can fluctuate unpredictably. Luckily, companies looking to reduce energy consumption-whether to help the environment or cut costs or some combination of both-have their choice of many new technologies to assist in that effort.
First, look to purchase low-power hardware whenever possible. Following the EPA Energy Star guidelines, Dell, among other vendors, has created several desktop and notebook products that consume less than 5 watts in low-power mode. IT managers should look for notebooks, PCs and desktops that use less power while in standby or sleep mode or while in use. Another way to cut down on power use is to curtail use of screen savers, which are typically power drains.
In addition, be sure to leverage the power-saving features of your operating systems. Vendors including Apple and Microsoft have developed power management features that help control computers energy consumption.
For example, in Microsoft Windows Vista on the desktop, power management features are turned on by default, according to Stephen Berard, program manager for the Windows Core OS Platform Architecture Team. “If these features are going to be deployed, we thought it better to have them enabled by default,” said Berard in Redmond, Wash.
Not all applications power-saving features are deployed by default, however, so you may need to go digging to find them.
The Linux community and Intel have teamed up to reduce reliance on the power grid. For example, Linux platforms with multicore and multithreaded-capable processors use a process scheduler within the Linux kernel (starting with Version 2.6.18) that provides tunables. These tunables reduce the number of processor packages and CPU cores carrying the process load. In addition, there are power-saving features in development for Intel processors using Linux, with the goal of using less power on desktop, mobile and server platforms.
Linux users can also enable power management features in Wi-Fi and SATA (Serial ATA) and by using Gigabit Ethernet speeds only when needed.
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Talk to your vendor to determine all the power-saving capabilities of the operating systems you have deployed and, when looking to upgrade, put “power-saving capabilities” on your criteria list.
On the hardware side, chip manufacturers have been ahead of the curve when it comes to innovating in ways that will conserve power. Advanced Micro Devices new quad-core processor, for example, doubles the power output of AMDs dual-core processor yet uses the same amount of energy and thermal power. That means more bang for your wattage and, incidentally, your buck.
Next time you update your desktops or servers or are preparing to buy new, be sure to visit www.epeat.net, home of the Electronic Productivity Assessment Tool created by a nonprofit organization called the Green Electronics Council. The tool uses standards set forth by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers to measure a products environmental performance. You can see how desktops, notebooks and monitors from a variety of vendors rank in terms of their environmental and performance attributes.
GreenCitizen estimates that a single computer monitor contains, on average, 6 pounds of lead and that computer screens and television screens account for 40 percent of all lead present in landfills. Most of that lead is contained in the monitors glass screens. Once a monitor makes it to a landfill and is crushed, the potential for lead mixing with water and seeping into the soil is high.
Today, there are about 70 million computers in U.S. landfills, according to research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University.
As mentioned earlier, responsible recycling is one way to ensure toxic materials in electronics equipment dont contaminate groundwater, release pollutants into the air or harm employees. But an even better solution is to see to it that poisonous substances such as lead, cadmium and mercury are banned altogether from the manufacturing and design process.
Apple, for one, bans a long list of toxic substances from its products, including asbestos, cadmium, mercury and lead. In 2006, the company stopped using CRT monitors, which contain lead oxide and barium, both of which are believed to have adverse effects on human health, including brain damage.
Apple also eliminated lead from its batteries and will phase out its use of brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride in 2008.
At Intel, engineers comply with the chip makers design-for-the-environment process and find appropriate substitutes to agents known for emitting greenhouse gases. Engineers are working to replace isopropyl alcohol, a volatile solvent known to contribute to smog. Isopropyl alcohol is currently used during Intels manufacturing process to clean the edge of a wafer during fabrication.
IT managers can take a page from these companies and implement the same kinds of oversight on their own or their partners manufacturing processes. In addition, when developing RFPs (requests for proposal), IT managers should ask questions related to vendors manufacturing processes, such as whether the products to be purchased are made of environmentally sensitive materials or take advantage of recycled plastics.
If a potential vendor partner cant or wont provide details, especially as they pertain to the reduction or elimination of toxic materials, go with another vendor. The EPAs EPEAT is also useful in this process. The tools rating system is designed to enable purchasers to specify environmentally friendly PCs and monitors in their RFPs.
The Green Grid is a nonprofit consortium comprising several high-tech companies that work to find energy-efficient solutions for powering and cooling data centers. Solutions include ensuring proper configuration of server software, with power-saving features enabled to maximize a servers efficiency.
Rightsizing physical infrastructure to the workloads at hand can knock as much as 50 percent off electrical bills in real-world installations, according to The Green Grid. The group recommends that companies begin installing power-efficient equipment, such as best-in-class uninterruptible power supply systems that guarantee 70 percent less energy loss than legacy UPSes at typical loads.
IT managers should consider a data center floor design that allows for hot-aisle and cold-aisle configurations, as well as proper placement of vented tiles. The Green Grid also recommends closely coupled cooling-in other words, putting cooling systems closer to heat sources. This provides shorter air paths for moving cool air, resulting in far less power needed to push the air. Also recommended is use of energy-efficient lighting, such as Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent bulbs that use 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and are estimated by the EPA to last 10 times longer.
Blade Network Technologies suggests several ways data centers can reduce their demands on the power grid, including replacing multiple data center fabrics used for server-to-server, server-to-storage and server-to-client communication with Ethernet/IP everywhere. The company also has developed a low-power blade server embedded with 10 Gigabit Ethernet that it says encourages a flattened data center network and consolidated infrastructure, resulting in IT cost savings.
Though virtualization has been kicking around for some time, IT managers and developers are only now getting hip to all the technology offers. By consolidating workloads, virtualization helps managers lower energy consumption and costs by reducing the number of machines and servers a company needs.
Virtualization software breaks through the limitations established by x86 computer hardware, which was designed to run single operating systems and a single application. Virtualization enables deployment of multiple operating systems and applications on the same computer at the same time.
Virtualization solutions company 2Virtualize estimates that for every 200 servers virtualized, IT departments stand to save $1 million over three years. Smaller companies can benefit, too: 2Virtualize calculates a savings of $963 and 9,636 kilowatt-hours for every server virtualized. Reducing servers through virtualization also means lower cooling costs and less floor space needed.
The virtualization model demands an SOA (service-oriented architecture) and a simplified infrastructure that coordinates technologies, reduces the server footprint and takes advantage of hybrid systems.
However, virtualizing on a single physical computer is only one small step toward energy efficiency and financial savings. Companies such as VMware offer virtualization platforms that can run across hundreds of interconnected physical computers and storage devices, creating an entire virtual infrastructure.
IBM, using in-house software, has launched an aggressive virtualization program for network storage devices that provides a full servers file-serving and file-sharing abilities using a fraction of the hardware necessary for traditional network storage setups.
IT managers should consider desktop, storage and backup virtualization to free up precious resources and reap financial savings.
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