back to article IT departments poised to fly past airlines on CO2 emissions

Carbon emissions from computing looks set to overtake aviation, a UK environmental charity claimed today. According to Global Action Plan, IT now accounts for 10 per cent of energy consumption in the UK. Speaking at the House of Commons this afternoon, Trewin Restorick, the author of "An Inefficient Truth" report, said IT …


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  1. Dazed and Confused

    Largest by default

    Perhaps the reason why IT now accounts for 10% of UK energy usage is that they've shutdown every other industry and moved it somewhere else.

    Would the last one out please switch off the light.

  2. Pete Silver badge

    just good planning

    statements like ..."already used up 75 per cent of their data centre floorspace and 61 per cent expected to hit storage capacity within two years." Is exactly what you'd want to happen. Floorspace and storage capacity are not hard limits (in the way that the amount of land is). When one datacentre fills up, companies just build another - or extend the ones they have.

    Therefore there is no question about growth being sustainable or unsustainable, it's just growth. If it becomes uneconomic it will stop, not because the amount of capacity purchased 2 years ago has been used up.

    You would not expect a datacentre to be buiilt larger than needed, nor would you expect a company to buy more storage that it has immediate use for - since the price of storage drops year on year, that would be daft.

    if you want datacentres to use less electricity, reduce the (legal) requirements for disaster recovery and hot standby systems, that double the consumption but don't do any useful work. You don't get airlines flying 2 planes to every destination on the offchance that one will break down.

    Maybe if we, as users, were willing to put up with websites loading in a second longer, there would be less pressure on companies to run such fast and hot servers.

  3. Calyth

    So what's the deal here?

    The problem with planes is that it spews exhaust high up in the atmosphere, while computing devices don't actually have an exhaust per-se, and its "carbon footprint" has more to do with how the electricity is generated than anything else.

    Would there be a "carbon" problem had the power been generated through hydro, or nuclear, or other methods that has small "carbon footprint"?

    We have this overly excited environmentalist who kept asking us if it's possible to coordinate with the users here so that the desktops are shut-off unless there is an anti-virus / Windows update. She has no understand of how the updates are done (we don't have a set time schedule for Windows update, and SAV updates everyday), nor there is a way to ensure that even if the users forgot to cooperate, things would get done. We just don't have the infrastructure for lights-out management at the moment.

    Not to mention the computing cluster inside the server room with the rest of the server, and a UPS the size of a car that runs 24/7 and gets loaded at the off hours...

  4. Dr Who

    Yes but no but ...

    Of course ICT hardware could be used considerably more efficiently BUT it's also true that information technology substantially reduces other sources of carbon emissions. Less snail mail, less business travel, more people spending some of their time working from home etc... etc...

    It's not a one way street.

  5. Steven Jones

    Conflating UK energy use with electricity

    Another mistake that happens far too often - conflating energy with electricity use. The report states "IT now accounts for 10 per cent of energy consumption in the UK". That's going to be a difficult figure to support when in 2001 (according to the DTI) only about 9% of total energy use in the UK was "primary electricity".

    That's not to say that IT doesn't need to be more efficient, but from the DTI's numbers it would appear that the actual percentage of energy consumption it is responsible for in the UK is nearer 1% than 10%. Now I've got no idea what they have included as IT - does it include everybody's domestic or even office PCs for instance? It's quite possible that the 10% is an underestimate of the electricity consumption.

    Of course it's going to be vastly easier to make more power-efficient IT equipment than to do the same with transport. IT power efficiency (throughput/capacity per KW) improves fairly rapidly - the problem is the demand side. However, company economics will drive more efficient usage. Shifting stuff around inevitably uses energy. Of course using IT does, in theory, allow for less moving around of people and objects.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    More obvious culprits

    Any efficiency improvements made by any UK IT departments (or hardware manufacturers like Dell, etc) will be wiped off the map anyway by Vista.

    PCs need more power than they ever did just to boot up the latest MS O/S. The notion of running an application seems to be a side-issue for the modern PC CPU. And why? to implement DRM within every other CPU cycle / data transfer that no-one, except the music and film industries want.

    So, if you want to blame anyone, blame Microsoft, the music industry, and the film industry, for pushing IT related CO2 emmissions through the roof.

  7. Simon Edmonds

    There is a lot that can be done

    With Intel servers average less than 10% utilisation, UNIX around 30% and over 50% of stored data being redundant according to industry averages, there is an awful lot that can be done to reduce energy usage. Over 60% of the energy consumption of the average data centre is not used by core IT equipment but buy cooling systems and power conditioning.

    Virtualisation, information lifecycle management, automated provisioning, water cooling and dc power are all concepts that can be developed. Recovering heat from the data centre to use elsewhere, or even converting back to electricity, will become increasingly attractive.

    Its not just about global warming - electricity is currently the second highest operating cost after people. Before long it will be the highest as the cost of electricity increases significantly over the next 5 years. There are already areas of the UK, including the City of London, where they can't physically get any more electricity down the cables in the street. Before the green issue hit the headlines a year ago, there was already concern about the 'energy gap' in the UK - we are running out of generating capacity - this was what triggered the Labour Government into discussions about building new nuclear generating capacity over two years ago.

    The necessary changes will cost money and take time - most of the technology is available, tried and tested - a few more bits need to be sorted but IT management really do need to get their heads together and accept that they can no longer ignore their energy usage.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As little as

    7 years ago one server plus a bit of storage would take up a whole rack. A terrabyte of storage would take up multiple racks.

    Today you can fit 20+ servers in a single rack and a terrabyte of storage in a desktop machine.

    Instead of coming up with the idea that ID cards cause global warming (yeah right) he should perhaps have looked at how much the IT world has reduced its carbon footprint per terrabyte of storage or how much less power it now takes per MIPS.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Guess who to blame ?

    When chip manufactures like Intel and AMD are producing lower energy processors, Microsoft then come up with Vista, big and bloated to the ceiling, all for what ? fancy display.

    Now you need a graphics card that draws more power than the whole PC put together, just to have a display that looks nice (not really as OSX beats it hands down), then you need the CPU running almost constantly with huge amount of memory and a fast hard disk spinning all the time, just to make Vista run at the same speed as XP on a P4/512MB machine.

    If anyone were to blame for this extra increase of carbon footprint, look no further than Redmond.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PC Energy Wasted!

    What annoys me about PC energy usage is that so much of it is wasted!

    Until some "energy efficient" dual-core CPUs came on the market, the emphasis has been on faster, faster, faster! But that has meant more power consumption and at the end of the day, if you are running a machine with between 512-1024Mb of RAM, with maybe a 1.6-8Ghz single core in it with a decent operating system, that does pretty much every job that needs doing in the entire country.

    So why do people think they need quad 3Ghz chips and 2 gigs of RAM? Its ridiculous - at least 90% of the power remains unharnessed for creating spreadsheets, updating databases, checking email and browsing the web (probably 90% of the "work" done in this country). And of course, as someone else has mentioned, Microsoft has some very bloated operating systems which hog processor time and therefore _energy_ totally unnecessarily.

    If you are serious about reducing energy usage in PCs/laptops - the main point to get across is to switch them off at night and where possible, during lunch.

    Monitor your CPU usage and kill programs that seem to have bugs in them and use up more processing % than they ought to - remember a badly programmed program may use up 99% of your processor's capability which means they are using 99% of the CPU's max power consumption, not to mention slowing your machine down to a halt. This includes viruses and spyware, an ironically, many anti-virus and anti-spyware programs.

    Administrators should make use of energy-saving features such as switching displays off after X minutes of inactivity (rather than leaving a crumby screensaver going). My LCD monitor uses something like 50 watts of energy when on and 3 when on standby. Factor that usage across all those who take an hour's lunch or leave a screensaver on all night and the carbon footprint comes right down.

    We all know what we can do and IT administrators should lead the way in my opinion.

  11. Smell My Finger

    Microsoft to blame!

    Jesus H Christ -- the Microsoft straw-man appears again. If you added up all the crap on the Internet, all the crap wikis, blogs, forums, all the porn, all the warez, the millions of abandoned mail accounts and mail accounts that only collect spam it would make the 40 million or so Vista licenses look like a drop in the ocean. Just look at the size of Google's data centres and the amount of processing power required to find all that crap above - the massive technology employed just to find gossip on Paris Hilton FFS. If we're talking Apple just look at the environmental problems caused by the iPod from manufacturing to recharging to eventually disposal, a product superficially engineered to become obsolescent in 18 months. Blaming the carbon footprint of IT on Microsoft is absolutely sodding pathetic.

  12. john faithfull

    Analog vs digital power consumption

    I always wondered if anybody in the government had done an energy impact assessment of the move from analog to digital radio and TV.

    If you look at the adverts for "wind-up" radios, they typically say you get an hour in analog mode, but 3-5 minutes under digital. Now that's what I call progress.

    And we have to buy new equipment...



  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft's Hand

    Despite what "Smell My Finger" has written, Microsoft's policies are key in the IT sector. I'm sure they could wheel out a whole bunch of marketing spiel about their green initiatives, etc, some of which of course is true, but more than anything, they need to lead the way.

    Most people use a MS operating system and they believe it or not, say they build it around making things easier for us. Problem is of course, an operating system's GUI is just a virtualisation or a metaphor for doing something in the real world. They are making it more and more complicated (because they think we want it) which means it needs more powerful hardware which uses more power and therefore ultimately requires more carbon to be burned to use it.

    Microsoft and the wider IT hardware industry have made such a devilish pact to promote ever increasing efficiency with new technology by bringing out new hardware and operating systems in an attempt to keep us all buying new stuff, even though much of it is a waste! Is a dual-core 2gig processor really that much better than a single 2gig chip?!?! Really? Or can you only say that because the PC magazines tell you they've benchmarked it in a test?

    To be honest Windows 2000 PC with a 1.8gz single chip feels 10 times faster at doing general stuff than Vista PC with a dual core!

    We are being manipulated by these corporations, fooled into "keeping up to-date" when its just nonsense.

    Ultimately, its frustrating that its more than just nonsense - its coming at the expense of the environment (materials, energy, waste).

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I suppose we can now expect a processor green tax and a power pack green tax and a hard drive green tax. Memory green tax and switch green tax.

    So we can finally nail the lid in the coffin of an other British industry.

    Damn people trying to be productive! Not in the new greener Britain - we will all live in caves and die at 50. Woohoo.

    I love greenfags

  15. Johnny De Vulcan

    Hover-Swift 3D-Traffic

    Hover-Swift 3D-Traffic is going to produce air-vehicles that do not pollute- and which CANNOT crash!!!

  16. Nick

    The megahertz war is over

    In the nineties Intel and AMD competed in the megahertz war to see who could overclock their chips to get the fastest headline grabbing chip frequencies.

    The end result was that you couldn't get anywhere near the peak performance numbers and the thermal envelope went to the wrong side of 100W per chip.

    When the single core chips were in danger of melting they jumped to multi-core.

    We're now living with the fallout where the chip designers are retrofitting power saving features onto a power hungry design.

    It's not their fault. The old mainframe technology was too expensive so people jumped away to cheap x86 hardware.

    Now the pendulum is swinging the other way and lots of old technology (liquid cooling, thin clients (again), virtualization, etc) is being brushed off and given a new coat of paint.

  17. Charles Hammond

    Green Wars

    The Green War is coming.

    I can see a need for change and some other cause effects that make for more energy usage than say the average PC.

    Take your 60 inch Plasma TV for example. That has got to be using an awful lot of electricity.

    Even the old style Tube computer Monitor uses more electricity and produces more heat than the average actual Box with the computer bits in it. Just replacing these with newer thinner LCD Flatscreens will save money, because they are more energy efficient.

    In the USA the houses we live in all seem a bit large to me. Basically we just fill them with a bunch of junk we do not really need anyway. Just reducing the sizes of new houses could significantly reduce energy consumption.

    Take a look at automobiles and you can see plenty of room for improvements. If we used something like a carbon fiber car frame we could significanty reduce the weight of cars and they could then use smaller engines.

    It is the Government that is a significant driver of our storage requirements. Now they want us to keep Internet Traffic Records of every person online for at least 6 months. That in itself requires a ton of storage that has no real purpose. Trim that back to a 30 day requirement and you can save significantly.

    Tax or VAT as some people call it is another big contributor to online storage. We look at tax in the USA as a means by which you can give groups of people advantages. Everyone wants a tax break. So we make all these loopholes for the tax breaks, and then we have to raise taxes on those folks who got the tax breaks requiring armies of tax accountants to pile up even more paper and computer records to find even more loopholes for tax payers so we will once again have to raise taxes. Maybe if we had no loopholes the actual tax rates would fall and taxes would be so simple we could fire all the accountants. This my friends is your government in action.

    Dont even get me started on the subject of SPAM! Marketing and advertising trash is the single largest creator of wasted energy and resources. Talk about a money pit!

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