back to article Whitehall orders green paint for IT dept

Whitehall has set out its plan for slashing the carbon footprint of its computer systems, and will send someone round to turn off all its PCs as early as this evening. A report released today, under the hideous title Greening Government IT, says that the UK gov’s computer systems pump out 460,000 tonnes of carbon a year, a …


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  1. The Cube
    Thumb Up

    To be fair to the authors

    They have actually tried to help with the environmental issues of ICT. If politicians using 1984 as their implementation guide demand more IT projects then perhaps we can ask them to sell off enough of their second homes to match the carbon footprint? I will be happy to calculate the carbon footprint of the National Identity Card scheme and help 'offset' this by eliminating unnecessary political energy expenditure, or perhaps we could just eliminate unnecessary politicians...

    The common sense suggestions such as not renewing all your desktop machines every 10 minutes and claiming it is 'green' because these shiny new machines use 1/4 watt less than the old ones needed saying.

    There are some issues with the report where it tries to provide simplistic answers to much more complex issues such as the data centre. The use of vendor press releases as cited sources for information is also rather questionable but the report is a worthwhile first step.

  2. Sam


    Go down the basement and pull the power.

    And if any end luser wants a viral screensaver, shoot them.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    so just how

    are the software distribution (well the team they pass it off on to anyway) team actually meant to push patches out to the desktops?

    considering S.W.D cant do it between 7am and 7pm due to stupid rules already put in place by them?

    bloody hippies - making my life hell since 1972

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    More Spin

    I'll be waiting for the next report then...

    Government scientists have calculated that to encrypt personal data the computer CPU has to work at double it's normal rate using more power, so that they weren't losing our personal details they were saving the planet!!

    Long live Gordon's Spin obsessed survellance state.

  5. Scott

    Carbon footprint

    Make all civil servants sleep under there desks during the week this will remove 60% of 40% of the 20% of statistics i mean carbon that they use to get to work.

  6. Tim J

    What a pessimistic view

    At least the government appear to be trying.

    I reckon long-lasting thin client terminals are one of big ways forward, as is ensuring that computers get re-used and recycled to the greatest extent possible.

    Putting electronics in the rubbish only for it to be incinerated or out in landfill should absolutely be frowned upon, for a whole host of reasons.

    Turning off unused equipment is an anathema to many techs, and this is an attitude which *has* to change.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not that simple?

    "...with the gov noting most of the energy used in the lifetime of a PC comes during manufacture."

    In which case, perhaps the best way to save energy is to extend the life of the PC. I have been told that PCs tend to last longer if they are left on 24 hours (not including the monitor, which can be turned off). Something to do with thermal stress, caused by heat/cool cycles, perhaps?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Except that it's rubbish...

    For every 450Watt PSU in the building, that's 450Watts less energy the central heating has to burn, once the ouside temperature drops below 21C.

  9. Peter W

    pretty good chances actually

    "So all in all the government has as much chance as any big company of meeting its targets in reducing carbon. Now, what chance is that? ®"

    pretty easy, actually. My company went carbon neutral jan last year, is 1000 odd people, and flew past it's first year targets for carbon reduction.

    They are stupid if they have someone walking round turning off pc's though (in fact, I suspect the article here is wrong) as you can automate it very simply.

  10. Adam Foxton
    Thumb Up

    A great way of beating those bosses

    Give them a thin client in a big box. Plaster Alienware stickers all over the side, maybe a couple of go-faster stripes. It's not like they'd actually ever notice now, is it? Or a high-performance machine that crashes all the time "because it's so highly tuned- like race car engines that break after each race. Yours is a slightly detuned-for-longevity professional gamer's machine."

    And you can lock user's screensaver settings- we've got it at work. No-one complains after a while.

    And you can remotely shut down PCs- our university's library used to do that at about 6pm every day. Make it routine that at 6pm everyones PCs would turn off, and those who were staying late had to turn it back on again and face a "user-cancellable" shut-down every 2 hours.

    Still, so long as it doesn't cost the taxpayer far too much then this can only be a good thing. And it seems remarkably achieveable for a government IT plan!

  11. Pete Silver badge

    mid-life kicker

    If you want to extend the useful life of a PC (or a server, or storage array for that matter) probably the worst thing you can do is to over-spec the thing when you first buy it. Not only are you paying a premium for bleeding edge tek, but the energy emissions from that screamingly fast processor and gigabytes of memory are wasted - if the processor is only running at 20% utilisation (a generous estimate, for enterprise IT).

    Better to buy the minimum spec kit that you need now and for the next year or two, but have the provision to upgrade it as the need arises. Not only do you spend less up-front, but the upgrade, when you do purchase it, is no longer top-spec, but will be more reasonably priced. You never know, with luck the whole daft programme you're buying for will probably be canceled - we are talking govt. IT after all.

    As the old capacity planning saying goes: the cup's not half-full, or half-empty - it's the wrong size!

  12. Arnold Lieberman
    Thumb Down

    Re: Except that it's rubbish...


    For every 450Watt PSU in the building, that's 450Watts less energy the central heating has to burn, once the ouside temperature drops below 21C.

    Nope. 450W is the *maximum* power that the PSU can theoretically chuck out, not the actual amount used. I have verified this with one of those cheapo Lidl's plug-in power meters - when my desktop sits idle it uses around 60w, and running flat out is 100w. Ands that's with a 350W PSU.

    You're right in that, during cold weather, this waste heat is not, em, wasted.

    All the ideas in the article sound reasonable, and of course old PCs make good thin clients, but as usual this ignores the laziness, incompetence and bureaucracy generally exhibited by the outsourced IT suppliers (and their customers) to be found running vast quantities of government IT departments.

  13. b

    "old Pentium machines"?!

    x86 instruction set, m8y!

    whadda we stoopid?!

  14. b

    oh and let's not forget the ORIGINAL computing method?

    i come from the 80's data centers..vax/alpha with vt520's etc.

    (VMS was the BEST EVER OS, bar none..dave cutler etc etc, NT had many vms-like things about it.)

    it's what was called the "me too syndrome" dealers in the 80's would look over their shoulders and see someone with a colour desktop with funny little animated icons. I WANT ONE!! (the spolit brats would scream)

    ..and so was borne the pc revolution. complex (and therefore power hungry) clients all round!

    businesses have been saddled with these bleedin' things ever since.

    go back to terminals and central servers, bingo, so many things solved in one go.

    (just as long as i can have my uber games machine, ahem, er, i mean sophisticated computing platform at home!)



    stuff and nonsense:

  15. Steve Beesley
    Thumb Down

    Re: Except that it's rubbish...


    I suspect the heating is turned off at night as well if nobody is there to benefit from it?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    here we go again

    You can turn off all unused PCs quite easily. Just about every IT enabled company has or should have a card based entry system, for timekeeping purposes if nothing else. That system uses a server. That server can remotely turn off the PC related to the person who just left the building. And boot it up when they re-enter. It's not rocket science.

    As for upgrades/patches, If only there was some way to remotely boot a PC .....

    bloody programmers, been making my life hell ever since - oh, wait, there is a way. Damn, another excuse to avoid personal responsibility gone.

    Christ, even virus scanners have an option to "shut the computer down when finished".

    There is no major problem with hardware longevity caused by shutting down and restarting systems, as long as you're not doing it every 30 seconds.

    Do you leave your car running while you shlep round sainsburys ? After all, you are going to need it in a minute, and all that wear and tear on the engine.

    I really thought that by now, the fact that we work over networks would have sunk in. We don't need hundreds of PCs, we just need interfaces to machines that do the work. So have screens for the users, and machines for the technicians. Do your updates and patches regardless of the state of a screen being turned off.

    This shows up the amount of slack in the system, as a large amount of hardware will be found to be completely unnecessary. At least it will be if they are really, truly aiming at better energy efficiency.

  17. Matthew

    I imagine . . .

    . . . the dozens of cries of, "Who the &^$#%* turned the SERVER OFF!!".

    Hilarity for all.

  18. Charlieman

    Meaningful savings

    An old but useful article that addresses energy consumption in use and manufacture; whilst PC technology has changed a lot, extracting and refining raw materials hasn't:

    If a desktop PC is switched off sensibly, we can assume that energy for manufacturing is going to exceed energy in use by several orders of magnitude.

    Remote startup: if you can configure wake on lan (WoL) securely on your network, most PCs you bought in the last five years will do it. If you have been buying recent PCs with Intel's vPro, that is an even better option. If we need to roll out patches, we just wake PCs earlier in the morning.

    How much energy does a PC use? A small desktop system for office use with an Intel processor has drawn about 45W consistently over the last five years. Some processors and chipsets have been more or less efficient than that, but 45W is a reasonable assumption. TFT monitors draw about 15 to 20W. Efficiency gains have largely been offset by using bigger monitors.

    Thin clients: Great for some things, but have you tried watching moving video on them? Plus you are simply shifting energy consumption from the desktop to the server. Yes, I have seen the VMWare presentations about how their clever server software optimises server efficiency, but I want to see some real world figures.

    Energy consumption and encryption: This is a consideration with web servers, because more servers are required to deliver SSL than plain HTTP. For a desktop PC, where most of the energy is consumed, it makes no difference. When you are using a web browser, the processor will never go into power saving mode anyway.

  19. Mad Dave

    When I was a Civil Servant

    For a department which specialises in losing the details of half the country, we were told to keep the PC monitors switched on 24/7 so that 'updates could be ran overnight'.

    I never knew that monitors were so sophisticated that they could act as sysadmins.

  20. Keith Langmead

    Software distribution

    "So just how are the software distribution (well the team they pass it off on to anyway) team actually meant to push patches out to the desktops?

    considering S.W.D cant do it between 7am and 7pm due to stupid rules already put in place by them?"

    Well any half clueful server admin would already have this kind of thing centralised and automated. Ever heard of WSUS, SUS & BITS? Updates can downloaded to the PC during working hours without causing disruption (thanks to BITS), and then if the office shuts at 19:00 you can either set all machines to shutdown at say 19:30, while telling your windowsupdate GPO to install updates and then shutdown at 19:00 (so they either shutdown as a result of an update, or where non are required it roles over the timed shutdown).

    Any users complaining that they're "in the middle of something" can simply hibernate their machines at the end of the day before they are forcably shut down to maintain the previous days state.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Arnold Lieberman

    Thanks for that, but it gets worse.

    So between October and April, there's absolutely no waste from heat, because it offsets the load on the central heating.

    So for 1.5 months in late spring and early autumn, since the computers are only on (in a wasteful fashion) when noone's there, ie at night, but it's down to 14 or so in the evenings on average, but we still come to work expecting it will be 20 next morning so if we turn them off, we're no longer offsetting what the heating's going to have to between 5 and 7 when it reheats, so paractically no loss there either.

    Thus for every computer in an office, for a whopping 13 hours a day when people aren't there, an average proportion of say, 50% of 60 Watts is lost.

    Thus in a hundred pc office, over a whole year, we're looking at losing 100 * 50% of 90 days * 13hours * 3600 seconds * 50 watts.

    This is 10.53 GJ, or 2925 KwH, which is one 20th of the energy usage (gas and electric) of my 131 bulbed, 16 room house for a year

    Thus with optimum switching on and off, of every office in the centre of my town, it's like knocking down one house, and asking the occupants to move in with their neighbours, or driving 25000 miles in a car, or flying, one way, once from Newcastle to Berlin, or denying food to one member of special forces when he runs up and down a mountain until he's sick.

    Before anyone questions the maths, I haven't researched any of the figures above.

  22. Dave

    Working from Elsewhere

    I leave my work desktop PC on 24/7 because I often connect to it remotely via the company VPN. There are certain jobs where you just can't beat having a machine inside the high-speed network rather than on a bit of wet string, especially when moving files between directories on the server, or where I realise that I forgot to save a file on the network and it's on the local machine drive. I also leave machines at home running 24/7 because once again, I connect to them remotely. However, it might be worth looking at setting up a WoL for some of them, triggered by a request from one that does stay awake all the time.

  23. Jims

    It would be better if....

    It would be better if they did this the other way round, and turned the PCs off during the day. This would lower the chances of goverment workers downloading confidential records on to their laptops and leaving them on trains.

  24. Charlieman

    Sorry, Arnold Lieberman...

    Just turn the computers off. And automate PC startup for patching out of hours.

    Computers are a very inefficient way of heating an office. By the time that you get a Watt of thermal heating, two or three Watts have been spent generating electricity in a gas turbine and in wastage on the power line. Electricity generally costs a lot more than gas or oil for heat purposes.

    Whilst computers generate some useful heat in the winter, they also generate unuseful heat in summer.

  25. Anonymous Coward


    And how much did it cost the lowly, humble taxpayer?

    And how many civil servants, employees, specialists, consultants and advisers did it take?

    What was the total cost of the report and preparatio of it?

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Sales Tax

    If the government were to raise the vast majority of their income from sales taxes, they would only need a little old lady with a calculator to total up the income. They could eliminate most of the waste at a stroke, and what is more, they would need to raise much less dosh, by sacking all the unproductive, self-serving, civil servants, who could go and do something useful for a living.

  27. Jon G


    I'm led to believe that Linux (a strange beast of which I have heard mystical tales) generally requires less hardware and so might allow the Government to achieve at least some of its aims......

  28. peter

    And another in the long list of 'carbon/cost saving' ideas

    Anyone else in the British Army last year remember the brilliant scheme for saving carbon emissions / electricity costs. And the brilliant idea was...

    wait for it.......

    Take out every other fluorescent light bulb.

    And this was during winter, so we sat there in the gloom with our single fluorescent bulb. Where I was there was a fault with the heating and we were heating the place up with fan heaters over most of last winter, so any cost savings (miniscule at best) were lost with the extra costs of running fan heaters.

    That is the Civil Service for you. "Spend a pound to save a penny" should be their motto.

    <icon) Nice warm glow of a fire to tost my toes

  29. Arnold Lieberman

    Re: Sorry, Arnold Lieberman...


    Computers are a very inefficient way of heating an office.

    I think you're got completely the wrong end of the stick. let me clarify, I certainly wasn't advocating using computers as a tool to heat anything, but just pointing out that a) the rating attached ot a PSU does not mean that is the amount of electricity consumed by it all the time, and b) that when heating is required, that which is generated by computers (incidentally) contributes to the heating of said room. That's all! Really!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    More energy savings

    Our University built a new energy efficient research centre a while back. They used motion detectors instead of light switches in the offices (they thought people would forget to switch off the light when they left the room). The trouble was, in the evening you had to wave your arms in the air every few minutes or else the lights would switch off.

    Paris? She would wave her legs in the air.

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