back to article Whatever happened to Green IT?

Call it green computing or sustainable IT, ten years ago it was all the rage. The IT press was filled with articles about it. Today, it’s hard to find a headline that mentions it. What happened? Green IT gained real traction in 2007-2008, as companies vied for position as the most sustainable on the block, often with massive …

  1. Philip Storry

    The bottom line won, green just road its coat-tails...

    It's touched upon in the article, but in an odd way it's now very expensive not to be green.

    At work, if I need a new server a VM is spun up. Speaking to friends in other companies, most infrastructures have gone the way of "you need to justify hardware" these days - the default is a VM, on the grounds that it reduces power consumption/rack space/hardware costs.

    And then there's the cloud. Ever built a SharePoint farm? So many machines! But if you're using Office 365, then that's Microsoft's problem. And at the scale of their O365 SharePoint farms, you can assume that they want to eke every saving out of them that they can - so it's probably pretty green.

    But even aside from that, at a machine level the cycles not spent serving you are probably spent serving someone else. I'd wager that the sheer scale of the various cloud services makes it far more energy efficient than using your own infrastructure, even if you have a virtualised infrastructure.

    Lastly there's the hardware itself. I'm struggling to think of a recent time when I replaced something with a new bit of kit that was less efficient than the previous one...

    Eco-warriors should take heart. As the technologies developed and scaled, it rapidly became too expensive to be anything but green unless you really needed local performance.

    Now if only we had the same kind of cut-throat competition in power generation - then we wouldn't have people clinging on to big coal-fired stations to eke out the last of their lifespan, instead of moving to something that was newer and cheaper.

    (My point being that the new technologies for power generation are close, but don't seem close enough or compelling enough yet to force replacement as we do with IT kit.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The bottom line won, green just road its coat-tails... just rode its coat-tails...please...

      Otherwise you are completely correct as far as I can tell. A relative has been involved in ripping and stripping data centres of antiquated power guzzling tin and replacing it with a few blades to VM a whole enterprise's IT on about 1/10th of the kit. And even less power consumption, especially on the air-con. It was, and is, low hanging fruit, and no one makes the green boast, because frankly, green is the colour of sour apples, vomit and envy, and what we want in business is low cost IT, not emotional narratives.

      You have no idea how out of love the business and technical communities are with Green - as well as the general population. The illusion that someone actually gives a shìt is maintained by a dedicated core of leeches and parasites, who are given central government grants to promulgate that message.

      However stick to IT, as far as power generation goes, if we had cut-throat competition we would be running all coal and not a single windmill or solar panel.

      If we had cut-throat competition and common sense it would be nuclear.

      That's what you get when you run the numbers after stripping out the politics.

      1. Philip Storry

        Re: The bottom line won, green just road its coat-tails...

        I have no idea how it became "road on its coat-tails" - I'm going to blame autocorrect! Regardless, apologies to those that it offended...

        Can't disagree on what you've said about power generation, by the way!

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    There is nothing 'outlandish' about powering buildings or data centres or whatever with wood chips. Makes much more sense in areas with forests and a lumber industry than in the middle of a desert, of course.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: powering buildings or data centres or whatever with wood chips

      Its not about being outlandish, it about being cost effective.

      It is actually more expensive to cut down and process trees than to strip mine coal.

      Only if you are running a lumber business and wood chips are a waste product, does using them for energy make sense.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There is nothing 'outlandish' about powering buildings or data centres or whatever with wood chips.

      You're 'aving a giraffe, intcher?

      Woodchips are a PITA - they are low energy density either requiring lots of storage or making you very supply chain dependent. They are frangible, creating highly flammable dust and even explosion risks. As a pelletised product they require crapola feed systems like blowers and screw feed pumps, all of which are vulnerable to blockage and failure. And they create lots of ash and have poor emissions quality without expensive flue gas treatment. In the middle of nowhere, with plenty of space and a reliable alternative source of energy they can work, for your typical urban or suburban DC it would be pure madness.

      The answer for a DC is the usual one employed - mains electricity (with multiple feeds if the local distribution is flakey) and multiple redundancy on oil fired standby power plant.

      Wood pellets are fit only for bearded, sandal wearing vegans who don't even have computers.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        To make things worse, lots of them are shipped all the way to the UK from the US.

        Just need solar powered chain saws and ships, then they'll be green.

  3. theOtherJT Silver badge

    Give a dog a bad name...

    I think part of what happened was that people wised up to the fact that most of the "Green" IT policies were green in name only. They didn't make any serious difference to power consumption, they just annoyed everyone.

    Once everyone had gotten utterly sick of them shutting off their screens every 2 minutes because you were busy reading something and hadn't moved the mouse, or parked the hard disk heads because you'd not requested any files in a while leading to this feeling that the machine was sleeping on the job every time you actually wanted something from it; all that shit got turned off and quietly dropped from the sales pitch because everyone was complaining about it.

    In the meantime all the improvements in tech that actually drove down power consumption just happened quietly and without any fuss in the background as we went from each generation of tech to the next. New desktops / monitors drew less power than the ones they replaced, new servers hosted more VMs than could be put in the rackspace required for the old physical boxes at a lower price, and so the "Green IT" revolution ended with something of a whimper.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Give a dog a bad name...

      We still get the occasional "turn off your monitors" email even though they each draw only 0.3W on standby, or <2 Wh/yr once you exclude the time they're in use throughout the week. So budget for about 30 cents/monitor/year (at domestic rates here).

      Whether you call that "Green IT" or not, I think that's a success.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Two things happened to it

    1) it became a victim of its own success - not because of the hype but because of all the attention that was paid to energy consumption with IT, things got a lot better. A decade ago server CPUs didn't even enter a power saving mode when idle, virtualization was used very little so a lot of servers were running flat out on small loads, and in general most people weren't paying attention to energy consumption when choosing hardware. That all changed, but now the easy fixes have been made. Still, the attention paid to energy consumption when buying still continues to this day. It just became obvious it was never a discipline worthy of certification.

    2) it was so badly overhyped it had nowhere to go but down. You'll see the same thing happen with DevOps in a few years, as the latest buzzword based trend appears and replaces its hype cycle (which can't happen soon enough at The Reg!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Two things happened to it

      > That all changed, but now the easy fixes have been made.


      Nowadays a data centre's biggest cost is energy by a long way.

      A no-brainer path to greater profit is addressing those energy requirements.

      It might not be obvious to those outside the issue but a big focus in the industry has been lower power and cooler CPUs to both reduce direct energy costs and the costs associated with cooling.

      It never really went away. It just became mainstream and part of doing business.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Virtualisation for the win

    Our in-house IT (to the tune of thousands of servers) are running at 75% VMs - and the target is even higher. This has been achieved through technology refresh and a mantra of low cost, and maximising efficiency.

    Couple this with some neat cold aisle containment mixed with free air cooling in the mix, and the costs have fallen and we are running at very good PUE at present.

    Green IT was not a fad - it just required the virtualisation technology, and server compute density and efficiency to catch up with our requirements.

  6. Dwarf


    Well, it's hard to power up thousands of expected pointless devices than monitor your fridge; central heating mains power and wireless enabled Twitter linked stapler and still save energy.

    I bet than only a very small number of resulting IoT devices will even know what sleep or power down states are for, hence we will burn stacks of power for nothing.

    Expect in 5 years that he green crowd will be calling for you to turn off your fridge or IoT enabled stapler to save power, either that or the government are looking for a thing to control with smart metering.

    1. another_vulture

      Re: IoT

      Just playing around in my house, my problem with IoT is trying to find an efficient way to provide a small amount of DC power to a small device. Every little always-on device needs its own itty-bitty power supply (usually a wall-wart or equivalent) and each of these has a transformer that draws AC power even when the the device is all the way off. Not much power, but if this is one watt and you have 50 devices, you are at 50 Watts 24/7. This includes every remote-controllable light bulb in the house and every control switch. It includes every phone charger that you leave plugged in, including those that are oh-so-conveniently included in your power strips. It also includes the controllers inside most of your appliances. Its not a matter of the actual electronics, which sleeps at microwatt levels.

      1. Dwarf

        Re: IoT

        Microwatts - only if the person who made the gadget understands things like low power modes, which was my point

        I wonder how many Raspberry Pi's and Arduino's are hammering away continuously in non efficient code sucking far too much power as they go.

        I also know of some Arduino boot loaders that don't correctly state the reason they woke from sleep, which is going to make low power modes an impossibility for the average tinkerer who won't even know that the boot loader is.

  7. PaulAb

    Let's be sensible....

    Yes, we all have LED lighting, we all do 60 miles to the gallon, and we all have ever so efficient 72 inch 1 watt Tv',s sky boxes, blah, blah, blah, then every fad season we change it all when it all could do many, many more years of service.

    Just look in your drawers at home - 3 phones at least( don't lie). Those Ipads that seemed so promising, now used to keep the airing cupboard door shut.Those TV's that aren't 4k ready(Yes, you know who I in the corner with the funny little IOT). All the little Bluetooth Gizmos that fell out you pockets and now reside down the toilet somewhere. I imagine all that wasted technology would add up to several hundred Billions of wasted watts of production each year in this country alone.

    To make amends, I myself have taken charge of my PI3 and have clipped out the power LED

    CONTROL YOURSELVES PEOPLE ......Wheres my green tea (Cold, of course, home grown)

  8. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    The hype died down, but...

    The hype over Green IT died, but I don't think the results did.

    Workloads have been consolidated; whether through virtualization, some "on-site cloud" setup, or whatever, in many cases a larger number of low-utilization servers have been consolidated into a smaller number of higher-utilization systems. Low power Xeon and ARM server systems are on the market, as well as radically low-power solutions (like a 5-10 watt server) if it's just for a small office. Desktops, portables, etc. it's far better now than it used to be -- you can look for an ARM or Atom or something to really save power. But even if you don't, you had desktops with like 75 watt CPUs that'd idle at about 20-30 watts 10 years ago; now you have desktop CPUs that might burn 5-10 watts a core under full load, and nearly 0 up to a few watts idle (and maybe 1-2 watts a core full-load for an ARM or Atom). Usually this is sold in terms of reduced power and cooling costs rather than green benefits, but of course saving power is the main green benefit, these two are one and the same.

  9. Carbon3IT

    Green IT is NOT dead!

    its just resting as MP would say.

    All the above comments are right on the button, the hardware is now green and getting greener (there is a new standard due imminently that requires better energy efficiency and recycling and includes less harmful stuff that is not recoverable). There is still work to do in telco data centres (transmission sites as they are all very old and were designed for a different era) and similar for enterprise data centres, there is a lot of work to do in enterprise banking and airlines data centres for instance which still have core systems from the 70'S installed (with their narrow environmental bands, 18-21 degrees C??) All in all, we still have a lot to do, even with the growth of the cloud, not all cloud apps sit in the very environmentally friends data centres of google, amazon etc, some are still contained in colo caged environments.

    I'm involved in a new intiative for London based businesses, called Sustainability for London, look it up and join in, it may enhance your environmental credentials and save you money!

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