When Copenhagen Ends lets get back to the basics - by Peter Judge
At the mid-point of the Copenhagen climate change summit, there's a lot of excitement in the air, and big plans afoot. But afterwards, let's not forget that most of what we need to do is pretty basic stuff.
Right now, people are still stoking the controversy supposedly raised by emails hacked from scientists at the Climatic Research Institute, but when it's eccentric creationist Sarah Palin calling for a Copenhagen boycott on "scientific" grounds, it looks like the skeptics have hit the bottom of the barrel.
The IT world is excited about IDC's calculation that there is plenty that information technology can do to reduce the world's dependence on fossil fuels, and its production of greenhouse gases. In the runup to Copenhagen, the analyst said around 5.8 billion tonnes of CO2 (20 percent of the total in 2004) can be cut using ICT instead of older means of communications - basically, by shifting electrons instead of atoms.
IDC had a press conference about this at Copenhagen, revealing that Japan is the country best placed to use ICT to reduce its emissions. But CIOs have felt that not enough is being said in Copenhagen about practical steps to use IT to reduce CO2, warning that if the summit doesn't give some practical guidance its big targets will be just so much hot air.
But how much guidance do we actually need? It seems the major first steps towards greening IT are easy to understand, and most people still haven't made them.
It's been obvious for some time that managing computers remotely allows them to be kept turned off when not in use, saving power and reducing waste. And yet, according to Intel, still only ten percent of PCs actually have power management.
That's out on the wild lands of the desktop, where technology can be hard to control. But even in IT's heartland, the data centre, penetration of straightforward good practice is still not great.
A survey found that less than half (44 percent) of data centre managers even see their electricity bills - so they have no incentive to reduce them, and feel resentful when asked to reduce something they can't even see. In most companies, the facilities manager still gets the bill, but has little influence on the IT effort that could reduce it.
There's an excellent resource for reducing data centre resource use, the EU Code of Conduct. It's now a year old, but so few people have signed up to it, there are fears that punitive legislation may be required to persuade managers to get on board.
Moves to reduce servers in the data centre through virtualisation are obvious quick wins - less power, less emission, and no great changes to infrastructure like cooling. Much of the moves IDC is talking about are easily understood changes that companies could have made any time in the last two or three years.
Beyond that, when the company comes to reconsider the physical side of its data centre, there are plenty of complex decisions to be made, including the type of cooling (we talked about liquid cooling recently) and alternative sources of energy (Google is big on this) and also recovering the heat from their cooling systems to use in domestic or office heating.
I expect efforts to reduce in-house emissions will fuel a drive towards outsourcing into shared data centres, or outsourcing at the cloud level. Where a lot of power is aggregated together under one roof, then it becomes more economic to apply disruptive changes in data centre architecture.
In the meantime, for the technology that remains in the hands of the in-house IT staff, after the publicity from Copenhagen fades, it will be time to get back to basics, apply simple and non-glamorous fixes to existing IT plant.