back to article Should the IT department be accountable for energy use?

As the green debate rages on, one of the findings that came from our recent survey of Reg Readers revealed that despite all the talk about energy savings and IT, the majority of IT departments are not accountable for spending on electricity to run systems. The survey also told us that a lot of IT departments would have a …


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  1. Paul

    Who owns the PC's?

    I think that whoever owns the PC's should take responsibility. If you are in a company that treats PC's as office equipment and IT are a support team the the department should, but if you are in one of these places that IT think they own everything with a processor in it (down to the EMU of the bosses car) and wont let you even put ink in a printer without them then they should take responsibility for it all.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm quite sure in large data centres there are always trying to cut electricity costs, they have teams and such like to look after such things.

    In small (as in 1 -> 10 ) companies they don't have much anyway so it makes little difference.

    In small medium (11 -> 200) the IT teams normally already have to do everything that isn't particular to another department.

    Server operations, desktop support, application installs, database management, telephone system management, reporting management, projects, maintenance, backup operation, new builds, troubleshooting, management reporting, new projects, specifics, costings, renewals, license management, intranet, environment management and maintenance, sans, storage, networks, firewalls, routers, aircon, and building security systems. All the time trying to keep the balance between performance, cost, life and scalability. All with limited physical space and manpower. O and you occasionaly have to change a light bulb or a bit of building maintenance.

    Where the hell you supposed to squeeze micromanaging electricity consumption? Not encluding the adding of bulk loads of power monitoring kit.

    I wouldn't mention this too close to government types though or you'll see a new tax in not time "O not monitoring your IT power? That'll be £50 per head per month. Thanks guys!"

  3. Steven Jones

    Why does this question need to be asked ?

    I can't think of one single reason why the IT department shouldn't be responsible for the electricity it consumes (apart from cases where gathering the information is disproportionately expensive). Electricity and related environmental are all fundamental cost inputs to running the IT services and surely have to be treated along with manpower costs, software licensing, equipment depreciation and so on. IT (like all business departments) are surely charged with a duty to run their services in a cost effective manner. Beyond mere cost issues, they will also have duties to comply with stated corporate policies - which might well include reductions in C02 emissions.

    Certainly I would expect all medium and large data centres to know all their environmental costs - power, maintenance, building and so on. Rather more difficult if all you've got is a couple of small servers in an broom cupboard (but I guess we aren't talking about that sort of set-up here).

    A more valid question is where should the boundaries apply. For instance, should an IT department be responsible for the power consumption of items of IT equipment outside the data centre or should that be devolved? Should the IT department be responsible for the power consumption of PCs? Should it be responsible for network kit in remote buildings? Then issues of span of control and costs of adminstering come into play.

    It is not necessary to measure everything - assuming the IT department has a half-decent asset management system it's possible to estimate power consumption of distributed kit, including PCs, monitors, remote network kit and so on to a useful degree of accuracy. If there is no such reliable register - well very probably your whole IT deployment is heading towards a state of chaos (if it isn't there already) and the software licensing trolls will be heading your way some time.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Not on its own. Every department uses the hardware in the server room, directly or indirectly.

    I don’t suppose other department staff consider that plugging in their USB phone/IPod could add to the energy cost of running an office.

    Also, where would it start and end? A lot of the people I know think that if it has a kettle lead; it must be the responsibility of the IT department.

    Photocopiers anyone?

  5. John Macintyre

    Problem is...

    IT outside of BOFH territory is usually pushed rather than suggested, so someone will say 'I've got x new starters, I want x pc's and they each need y monitors' and It will have to provide it. if IT are accountable, then they will need to turn around and say 'no, we'll give you a weaker machine with less monitors to save energy' at which point things won't go too well

    At the end of the day, the business requires production, which in itself requires good hardware, and this usually doesn't include concern at cost.

    On top of this, there are other ways to reduce the costs in larger business such as the obvious turning off of the 3 monitors per person (of which in my company probably 1% of people do), turning off pc's at night/weekend (but they get network booted over the weekend anyway so that doesn't do much).

    It's more a cultural thing, make people turn off their monitors and pc's, it's something that IT depts can't do, but something that can help quite considerably.

    Then of course you have the other side, whereby IT is limited by it's budgets, so buying more expensive energy efficient kit may not be practical or cost effective, so on that side they're dependant on large corps ie hp/dell making their low-cost/high productivity builds more energy efficient without increasing the cost to the consumer

    Just a thought, prob total bollocks though. Blame IT, then we can spend more time in the pub :)

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Dunno about now, 2 years ago it used to be "who cares"

    A few years back I had to deal with a software "upgrade" from Debian to a specific version of RHEL stuffed down my throat two years ago for all developers desktops (this was before RHEL learned the fine points of P4 CPU frequency scaling).

    The "upgrade" would have resulted with us having to disable power management on all desktops and an average of 2000£+ per year electricity bill (measured and tested using a power meter). I personally tried to peg it to the project costs and make sure that it is clearly visible on all estimates.

    Guess what, I was told to f*** off and stop imagining.

    As far as I know this is a more or less typical case as far as UK IT is concerned. When choosing between branded naso-rectal interconnect + whalesong and actual power consumption realities UK IT always chooses the whalesong topped up by close naso-rectal relationship with a "well known brand". The real power consumption is not measured and is never ever estimated when looking at project costs, upgrades, software choices, management and so on.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course - to a point

    Why not?

    For large comapnies you would of course cross charge the energy usage to different departments and they take the hit. Just add an accountant to every IT department.

    You want a server sir, no problem, thats Support, Storage Space, Power Consumption, Air Conn, Network to connect it and router ports, and a phat 60% margin on all please.

    Cheques made payable to all in IT

  8. Pete Silver badge

    it's only "funny money" - makes no difference

    OK let's imagine that IT is to be billed for the leccy it's (actually, the company's) computers use. How would that work? Budgets are calculated on the basis of what a department costs. It you increase a department's costs then their budget needs will go up. Likewise if you change things so that (for example) Facilities are no longer responsible for paying the power bill, their costs will go down. It's not as if they'll be allowed to keep the money they're now not spending - it just gets funnelled to a different cost centre.

    Of course is you were a CFO with no clue, and even stupider staff, you could probably get a way with call ing this a green initiative, but no-one with half a brain would believe it.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's a way

    Give IT an incentive. If there's a measurable energy savings, let them keep a percentage of the savings (at today's rates). If there's a large system (phone switch, mainframe) and it's expensive to replace, let projected energy savings (maximum rated draw of new equipment vs. measured energy draw of the old) fund the replacement.

    We've been using server virtualization for almost four years now, and we've managed to get our energy usage to level off or decline in the past two as we've replaced older Xeon-based servers with VMs or newer, more efficient equipment. We're getting zero credit, and we're likely to get dinged as the organization starts talking about sustainability. The "typical reduction" likely can't be hit in IT here because we've already done a chunk of it on our own. We've been joking about hooking up old equipment or space heaters prior to any energy audit so we can meet whatever target we're given.

    The edge equipment and network switches stink. Laser printers, PCs, switches. Even without PoE, they use a ton of power, and there's no dynamic power saving features on a switch to speak of.

  10. Geoff Mackenzie

    This is pretty silly

    The company that bought and owns the IT assets ultimately pays the power bill, so someone's accountable. IT isn't even the biggest energy consumer in many companies (I hestitate to say most, I don't have the statistics, but consider production line equipment or road haulage for example - IT pales into insignificance).

  11. Anonymous Coward

    its going up. not down

    okay. so we have virtualisation, we have power saving frequency scaling CPUs etc. unfortunately we also have more and more people demanding faster and more wifi and gig to the servers/desktops. those switches and APs use more and more power.

    we have demands to roll out VoIP - those PoE switches take even more power (certainly much much more than their old telephone exhange direct copper did!)

    and VoIP phones such mush more juice than their old counterparts.

    IT pay for costs? where? for the power used by the laptops, desktops, monitors, USB widgets and all supporting switches and APs that each department needs?

    no. thats a departments cost surely.

    IT pay for the leccy in the server room? those servers arent there for the looks. they are there for all the users who use them and need them (email, file stores, databases, authentication etc).

    nah. the whole thing needs a more centralised holistic approach.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: its going up. not down

    >>unfortunately we also have more and more people demanding faster and more wifi and gig to the servers/desktops.

    why unfortunately? don't you agree with progress? as for demanding-well, how dare they? it's not as if they're paying your wages or anything. oh...

    >>those switches and APs use more and more power.

    since when? i'm a network admin and i can atest to the fact that the latest switches and routers consume a lot less power per switchport than their predecessors. higher port speed does not equal more power consumed.

    >>we have demands to roll out VoIP - those PoE switches take even more power (certainly much much more than their old telephone exhange direct copper did!)

    demands, again. don't you want to work? as for the argument regarding power consumption-pure bunkum.

    >>and VoIP phones such mush more juice than their old counterparts.

    that would be the same juice provided by the PoE switch. i suggest you dig out an old gpo phone and measure the power consumption on ring before you revisit that particular argument.

    >>nah. the whole thing needs a more centralised holistic approach.

    need i say more?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @it's only "funny money" - makes no difference

    Therein lies the problem. Every place I've ever worked, if IT were made responsible for paying the power bills, it would be accompanied by a SMALLER budget allocation.

  14. b shubin

    No worries

    i think this is a delightful idea. when faced with budget restrictions for energy to provide IT services, we will implement a schedule of blownouts to save money.

    then we sit back and wait for the screams to start. 90 seconds should do it.

    it seems that everyone STILL conveniently forgets that IT is an enabler: the department delivers services to most or all other departments within the organization. those services are often considered critical by these other departments, because people come to rely on the speed and convenience of information accessibility, processing and communication.

    the IT budget is therefore STILL considered an easy target for budget cuts. if the energy line item is included in it, the next round of budget cuts can have only one obvious outcome.

    that being said, it is important for the IT department to meter usage and find ways to save energy (incentives can be put in place, initiatives implemented, strategies developed). making the IT energy bill a pain point for the IT department alone is just about the stupidest and most shortsighted idea i've heard in a long time (20 years in corporate America is a VERY long time), especially with the rising worldwide energy prices.

  15. Tawakalna
    Paris Hilton


    Seeing as we can't even get the fr*ggin' L-users to turn their machines off at night, since they always leave them logged in and locked, usually with half-a-dozen apps open connected into one or other of the customer data processing servers so we can't just kick 'em out, then how the hell can the IT Dept be repsonsible for energy usage? The managers of individual departments should be responsible for their department's energy usage, and that way it would become clear which departments are wasteful and which are not.

    hmmmm, I wonder if there might be a correlation between waste of electricity and waste of time? In which case it's bound to be Sales, Customer Services, Board of Directors, and HR.

    Actually I've just changed my mind. After reading b shubins comments on implementing blowouts, I'd really enjoy turning all the L-users off at 5pm and then blaming global warming (and the board of directors and their poodles in HR and all the grovelling drones in Sales and Customer Services) for the harsh new energy conservation policy...

    ...or we could go back to the 3-day week of the 1970s energy crisis. I have fond memories of that :)

    Paris 'cos I'd like to be responsible for her energy usage.

  16. Andrew Fraser

    It's all about the incentives...

    I think it should be the IT departments responsibility to *investigate* / measure / monitor power consumption, but the bill should come at the feet of the department that is profiting from its (whatever the equipment is) use.

    For example, every 6 months you adopt a new company desktop PC standard - instead you offer 2 types: one for performance and one for energy saving (although with todays processors you can make very good compromises). You charge the cost centre more for the 'less green' machines, or you charge them a higher service / support / facilities monthly fee.

    e.g. Quad Xeon CAD workstation - £1500, £100 /month

    e.g. Core 2 Duo slimline desktop PC - £600, £50 /month

    The point is that you must move the incentive onto the end-users (well, their managers, etc.) otherwise if put on the IT department it will not work - you reduce costs so they reduce your budget as others have already commented.

    @Tawakalna - it's not difficult to monitor workstations that are left switched on; even if you accept that there's legitimate reasons for doing it so you don't want to automate a shutdown, you _could_ charge the originating cost centre for the extra usage. I'm sure managers that were getting £10-£50 penalties per head per month for PCs being left on would soon be screaming at their staff to switch them off (and probably going round at 5.30pm and forcing them off).

  17. Tawakalna

    @Andrew.. great idea!

    "it's not difficult to monitor workstations that are left switched on"

    I know, and I do, and I moan about it a lot, but no-one gives a damn, because it's just too inconvenient for the poor dears to turn off their pcs and reboot them in the morning. I love your idea about financial penalties, but the @rselickers involved are just way too far up the dark brown passages of the powers-that-be for such a wizard scheme to ever get off the ground. Although I will raise the idea at the next inter-departmental meeting now that you've mentioned it! I'm used to being unpopular :)

    wot, no *green* icon?

  18. RRRoamer
    Thumb Down

    What is it with accountants and subdividing everything..

    If you want to add power management to ITs tasks, fine. That would need to be considered for both old system replacement (hardware that is still capable of doing the job, but sucks on the electric teat a little too hard) as well as new hardware purchases (that old performance/watt metric that is never actually actuate or even completely truthful).

    Of course, this means giving them MORE money for hardware purchases that will offset electricity purchases... Right...

    If you decide that you just HAVE to charge IT for the electricity they consume, then you really need to go the rest of the way and charge each departement for all the utilities THEY consume as well.

    Electricity? Check.

    Water? Check.

    Waste treatment? Check.

    Fuel oil/gases? Check.

    Building repair/upgrades? Check.

    Building services? Check.

    This could get out of hand pretty fast. In typical bureaucratic fashion, you would quickly end up spending FAR more money micromanaging things than you could EVER save by forcing this further down the chain.

    But there is ALWAYS one more bean counter that just HAS to have ONE MORE BEAN to count!

  19. Swee' Pea

    A Different Perspective

    I'm an engineer in the employ of a large entity with multiple locations and disparate business processes. Over two years ago one of the national departments had me buy and *implement* SQL, Sharepoint, and Web servers at seven locations. I've been back to most of these sites and the servers are turned on but the local IT department hasn't done anything with them -- no users, no content, NOTHING. The department that bought this equipment put it there as a "shared" resource but never told anybody what to do use it for or that it was available for the asking. The IT department had no incentive to advertise. So they sit there humming and heating, thereby costing the electricity to power both the CPUs and the BTUs.

    (Obviously the term "implement" is used loosely since loading and testing software is NOT an implementation and after two years this still bothers me.)

    Lest you think it's just my wacky employer, I was visting a colleague at another large organization with multiple locations and disparate business processes (entirely different business sector). This colleague had just been assigned to a new office. It full of old furniture and in one corner he discovered a 3B2 minicomputer humming and heating his new digs. He proudly demonstrated he was able to logon as root and determine it hadn't been rebooted or accessed in over five years!

    I don't know WHO should be responsible for power consumption but someone should. There's plenty of waste and no incentive to challenge the status quo. It's more likely a security manager will pull the plug on these unused machines for not being maintained than because they are power hogs.

    And to those who think it may not seem like it's much power, perhaps you'd like to send me your pocket change everyday for the next year.

  20. Shabble


    The IT dept provides a service, and it is expected to provide the best service possible at the cheapest price. If it is cheaper to do something less green, then there will be pressure to do just that.

    The realistic method would be for the IT department to consult with the organisation's environmental committee (or whatever) and put forward recommendations for electrical consumption targets - these can then be endorsed by senior management.

    This way, when IT put forward budget proposels they can justify the extra expence of energy saving devices / software.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't bite the hand that feeds you

    You make IT accountable for the electricity spend and we will be adding hibernation to a group policy and forcing it on the users. You are going to be shaking your mouse every 5 minutes just to keep your PC from hibernating, you are not going to get that nice widescreen 24" monitor either it will be economic little 15" monitors all around, you will have to walk miles for a printer because too many take up too much electricity and as for projectors - you are going to have to turn all of the lights off in that meeting room because we bought the projectors with the lowest ansi level.

    If you make IT accountable for it, you will pay in other ways...

  22. Chris Cartledge

    Energy costs are real - take action *now*!

    In some cases, over four years the electricity cost of IT equipment now exceeds the capital cost. It is real money, whoever picks up the the bill within an organisation. IT staff should be taking the matter seriously, because they are in the best position to change policies.

    In the UK, electricity costs about 10p per kWh. For equipment like servers (and sadly many PCs) which are left on for 24 hours per day this is nearly £1 per watt per year (around 8760 hours in a year). In air-conditioned space you need to increase this by about 50% because of the impact on cooling costs. It is easy to measure the power usage of unit. For example Maplin have a meter, model L61AQ which currently costs £9.99.

    A typical 2-processor server costs anything from £300 to £600 per year to run. Specifying lower power processors and fewer memory modules saves

    real money.

    A desktop PC uses perhaps 100 watts or more. Switching it off at night and at weekend can save 75% of electricity use. There is also a new US Energystar 4 standard which IT deparments could (should?) specify for new PCs

  23. Jasprt2
    IT Angle

    IT is very conscious of the watt...

    As a Datacenter Administrator I can tell that IT is VERY conscious of every kilowatt it uses. For those of you that don't get into the datacenter much, everything is run through carefully sized UPS systems. I have 160KW in a dual - redundant configuration in my datacenter and it is a huge part of my duties to monitor and ensure that we have enough power keep all the business systems running. Every system is sized not just for CPU power but for KVA and heat load. FYI Cooling is the biggest factor in IT power usage. To suggest that IT should pay for or be responsible for power usage is a non-starter. Servers have to be powered, you are really only talking about moving a portion of one budget from one office to another: OPS or IT. It won't matter in the end.

  24. mike
    Paris Hilton

    to: anon cow, re: Don't bite the hand that feeds you


    don't forget to add the content filter at the gateway....I would hate to think about IT energy being wasted by users browsing non-business related sites.

    I bet it would take less than a week of "This website has been blocked by Sonicwall Content Filtering Serivce because it is a waste of the IT department's energy budget to abolish this policy.

    Paris Hilton?-for all the electricity I wasted downloading and watching her video! But it was worth it;)

  25. Simon Ball

    Beancounter speaking

    Why IT energy consumption in particular? Any organisation with any interest in the bottom line ought to have embedded full-lifecycle costing into the procurement process already. If they haven't, energy consumption will be the least of their problems.

    Certainly IT is in the best position to guage power consumption, and to implement power saving measures, but responsibility for energy conservation should be organisation-wide.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Holding IT responsible for power useage is silly.

    Makes no sense. IT is a service, not an end in itself. Folks want their porn,

    and they want it now. Delivered to all their 'devices' and stored in perpetuity

    to be delivered on demand from anywhere, without anyone else being

    able to get it, unless they want them to, depending on the PHB's mood

    at the moment.

    We come up with ways, not even within reason, to attempt to accomodate

    totally unrealistic expectations, that folks get from reading airliner magazines

    or watching '24'.

    What crazy talk.

    It's quite easy to fix. When that becomes a big enough issue, then it will get fixed.

    This whole idea is again about trying to pass the blames for societies ills off

    of the folks who refuse to consider consequences, onto the backs fo the engineers who build what they are asked to build.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If we pay for it, we need a say in what gets plugged in.

    - A couple of the VPs just bought 24" WS monitors, no P/O or anything they just called up Dell and put it on the account, once one did it the rest did it too... I'm expecting to be called to install the BR burner and 5.1 sound any day now...

    - The developers still had a 7U IBM box with dual PII 350s and 3 9GB SCSI drives. Keep saying they still need it but when I investigated I find that it's just an extra 10 GB of space above their normal quota. Too bad that server "died" ;)

    - The bean counters hired some consultant to build a custom app for them. They give us a box to host in the server room so that everyone can access it. It looked like no one was accessing it any more, so I asked and the bean counters say they use it every day — well the power cord "fell out" 3 months ago.

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