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Information Technology isn't the most environmentally friendly of industries.
For example, a recent study from the IT and Environment Initiative, a research consortium working to improve understanding of IT's effect on environmental issues and sustainability, found that at least 1,200 grams of fossil fuels and 72 grams of chemicals were required to produce one 2-gram 32MB DRAM memory chip. The study said the amount of environmentally sensitive materials used to make the chip far belies its tiny size; fossil fuels for production are some 600 times the weight of the chip. By comparison, the total fossil fuels needed to produce an automobile is one to two times its weight and four to five times for an aluminum can.
Data centers have their own environmental issues. IBM (NYSE: IBM) estimates that data center energy usage accounts for 2 percent of global man-made carbon emissions, about equal to the entire airline industry.
But with environmental issues growing in importance and a new Administration that's likely to increase that focus governments and organizations are ramping up efforts to mitigate some of the problems. In fact, many data storage vendors have plans in place to make storage solutions more eco-friendly, such as setting up programs for engineers and scientists to develop innovative products and services that provide superior computing power while requiring less energy.
Fujitsu, for example, has developed products that use just a third of the power of previous generations. "We have also driven improvements at the silicon level that reduce overall power consumption," said David James, vice president of advanced engineering at Fujitsu Computer Products of America. "Each generation of disk drive has improved performance, but power consumption is lower."
IBM says it's trying to help by ensuring the evolution of the LTO tape program. Bruce Master, IBM's senior program manager for worldwide tape storage systems marketing, said the LTO program "has continued to evolve tape specifications to provide the additional capacities, speeds and security measures that are needed for today's and tomorrow's data centers."
Tape, he said, is gaining favor among users as an eco-friendly strategy that can reduce energy and financial costs.
EMC (NYSE: EMC) has also made energy efficiency an important priority, said Dick Sullivan, EMC's director of enterprise solutions marketing. Nearly every major product announcement that the company has made in the last two years has included some element of energy improvement, he said.
Advancements include capabilities such as increased consolidation, greater total energy efficiency, data de-duplication, disk spin-down, larger capacity and lower power disk drives, solid state flash drives (SSDs) and dynamic cache partitioning, among others, said Sullivan.
EMC's 'Green Team'
Sullivan said EMC has put together a cross-functional, engineering-focused "Green Team" to focus on developing new integrated efficiencies for hardware and software.
The company also has a "Design for Environment" program that "meshes manufacturing and engineering imperatives to develop the most environmentally efficient and business effective products from the first sketch to final disposal," he said. And EMC's Green Business Initiative encompasses 18 departments working on cross-company initiatives "that address every element of environmental, economic and social sustainability that impacts EMC's business," he said.
EMC's comprehensive efforts might be the right approach, according to a CDW Green IT study. CDW vice president Mark Gambill said organizations that are successful at reducing IT energy costs dig deeper and attack the problem consistently across all facets of their IT systems. "More than 90 percent of those same organizations are taking ownership of their energy bills and advocating efficiency improvements throughout their respective IT organizations," he said.
3PAR (NYSE: PAR) hopes to connect with storage users by linking environmental responsibility with cost savings. "As a pioneer of thin provisioning, 3PAR has disrupted the economics of primary storage by minimizing power consumption and promoting environmental responsibility in the data center," said 3PAR CEO David Scott. "We have done this both through hardware and software innovation."
Scott said 3PAR's InSpire Architecture features a massively scalable and highly clustered design that allows customers to purchase only what they need, enabling them to start with an InServ array as small as 2.3TB and then scale that system as the business demands, to as large as 600TB.
The company's "Fast RAID 5" technology, he said, boosts performance for RAID 5 data protection to within 10 percent of RAID 1, but with significantly less capacity outlay. This lets customers achieve protection and performances levels comparable to RAID 1 with 33-88 percent less capacity, said Scott.
Geoff Noer, senior director of product marketing and management for Rackable Systems (NASDAQ: RACK), said IT departments need to measure the efficiency of their data centers.
Industry organizations such as The Green Grid can help with metrics such as PUE and DCiE that help users "understand the impact of storage and servers at the data center level," said Noer. Such metrics, he said, make it "much easier to compare different data centers and evaluate the impact of potential building and/or equipment upgrades to increase efficiency. Studies have shown that there are often data center energy efficiency improvements that can pay for themselves in as little as six to18 months that are easy to justify."
In a tough economy, the Green IT initiatives that are likely to gain the most traction will be the ones that can also benefit the other kind of green: corporate bottom lines. And don't overlook simple things you can do in your own data center that can save money while lessening strain on the environment. Just unplugging unused equipment can save a bundle, according to one study.