What Is Green Computing?

Green computing, also called sustainable computing, aims to maximize energy efficiency and minimize environmental impact in the ways computer chips, systems and software are designed and used.

Also called green information technology, green IT or sustainable IT, green computing spans concerns across the supply chain, from the raw materials used to make computers to how systems get recycled.

In their working lives, green computers must deliver the most work for the least energy, typically measured by performance per watt. Green computing involves reducing the use of hazardous materials, maximizing energy efficiency during the product’s lifetime, and promoting the recyclability or biodegradability of defunct products and factory waste.

One key area where green computing is making a significant impact is in data centers. These centers, which house servers and other computing equipment, consume vast amounts of energy and can have a considerable environmental footprint. Here are some strategies for building eco-friendly data centers:

  • Energy-Efficient Hardware: Use energy-efficient servers, storage devices, and networking equipment. Look for Energy Star and EPEAT certifications.
  • Virtualization: Use virtualization technology to reduce the number of physical servers needed. Virtual servers can run multiple applications, increasing utilization rates and reducing energy consumption.
  • Energy-Efficient Cooling: Implement efficient cooling systems, such as hot aisle/cold aisle containment, economizers, and liquid cooling, to reduce the energy required for cooling.
  • Renewable Energy: Power data centers with renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric power, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Server Consolidation: Consolidate servers through virtualization or cloud computing to reduce the overall number of physical servers, thereby reducing energy consumption.
  • Energy Management Software: Use software to monitor and manage energy usage in real-time, identifying areas for optimization and efficiency improvements.
  • Recycling and Disposal: Ensure proper recycling and disposal of old equipment to minimize the environmental impact of e-waste.

Why Is Green Computing Important?

Green computing is a significant tool to combat climate change, the existential threat of our time. Global temperatures have risen about 1.2°C over the last century. As a result, ice caps are melting, causing sea levels to rise about 20 centimeters and increasing the number and severity of extreme weather events. The rising use of electricity is one of the causes of global warming. Data centers represent a small fraction of total electricity use, about 1% or 200 terawatt-hours per year, but they’re a growing factor that demands attention.

Powerful, energy-efficient computers are part of the solution. They’re advancing science and our quality of life, including the ways we understand and respond to climate change.

What organizations can do?

The largest gains in making IT more sustainable may be made by corporations, governments and other large organizations. Data centers, server rooms and data storage areas have a significant opportunity to run more efficiently.

In such areas, setting up hot and cold aisles is an important step toward greener computing because it reduces energy consumption and optimizes heating, ventilation and cooling. When automated systems designed to control temperature and similar conditions are combined with hot and cold aisles, emissions are further lowered. Cost savings from reducing energy use may eventually be realized, as well.

One simple step toward efficiency is to make sure things are turned off. Central processing units (CPUs) and peripheral equipment such as printers should be powered down when not in use. Scheduling blocks of time for specific tasks like printing means peripherals are only in use when they are needed.

Purchasing departments have a role to play in green computing, too. Choosing equipment that will last and consumes the least amount of energy necessary for the task to be performed are both ways to reduce the carbon footprint of IT. Notebooks use less energy than laptops, and laptops use less energy than desktop computers, for example.

The importance of being energy efficient

The heart of an eco-friendly data center beats with energy efficiency. Adopting energy-efficient technologies, including LED lighting, intelligent HVAC systems, and advanced power distribution, can significantly reduce carbon footprints. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an Energy Star-rated data center is up to 30% more efficient. Energy efficiency isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a data center’s lifeline. Harnessing the power of renewable energy sources like solar and wind can be a game-changer. On-site renewable energy generation, combined with power purchase agreements (PPAs) with green energy providers, ensures a constant supply of clean energy. Modern cooling techniques, such as hot/cold aisle containment and liquid cooling systems, are revolutionizing data center cooling. By optimizing airflow and reducing the energy required for cooling, these methods not only save money but also contribute to a more sustainable data center ecosystem. Similarly, server virtualization and consolidation are like magic spells for energy savings. By running multiple virtual servers on a single physical server, data centers can dramatically reduce energy consumption and optimize resource usage.

6 Planning Steps For a Green Data Center

Checklist For Designing a Green Data Center

  • Determining the location
  • Making the data center energy-efficient
  • Construction with eco-friendly materials
  • Planning waste management and recycling
  • Employee training in green methods
  • Comply with all regulations

Important Equipment to Consider

To bring green data center plans to life, operators must think about acquiring a plethora of critical equipment. Rahkonen of Uptime Institute said operators must show careful consideration in selecting servers and IT equipment to “ensure high utilization for the given workloads and applications.” He said they’d also need containment systems for isolating cool from hot air as it travels in and out of the servers, adding that an “efficient cooling system” would enable operators to use “free cooling.” Something else to consider is the “adaptation of the cooling system to enable heat reuse,” according to Rahkonen. They could do this by “increasing return heat temperature to enable output to district heating system.” Rahkonen also recommends investing in “efficient electrical systems and batteries,” sensors, and a monitoring system to “measure and keep up the efficiency of all technical systems.” An efficient data center will still need to be powered and cooled by essential equipment like uninterruptable power supply (UPS) units, computer room air conditioners (CRACs) and chillers, and standby generation, according to David Watkins, solutions director at VIRTUS Data Centres. Watkins pointed out that while diesel-powered generators typically power standby generation, more sustainable methods are emerging. “A lot of research and development is underway investigating alternatives that use more sustainable fuels (hydrogen & HVO) and technologies (fuel cells and battery storage,” he said.

Green Data Centers Are Not Cheap

Although data center operators and customers can reap significant benefits from sustainable operations, critical financial factors must be considered. Rahkonen explained that while buying green data center equipment at a total cost of ownership “will typically increase the initial cost,” doing so could result in “yearly operational cost savings over time.” He said operators could also incur higher costs by buying “green electricity for direct consumption,” using the example of utility green tariffs that may include a “premium on top of regular grid electricity price.” Purchasing sensors and monitoring systems can be expensive in the short term, although Rahkonen said such technology would help operators save money from increased efficiency. They’d also be able to “compile data for regulatory reporting.” Christoph Cemper, founder and CEO of AIPRM, admits that building a green data center “can hit the wallet pretty hard at the start.” But he said the silver lining is that governments could potentially provide tax breaks or grants to help data centers achieve their sustainability goals. “And don’t forget, your energy bills will take a nosedive, which means more money stays in your pocket over time,” he added.


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