Wyatt Kash | Government's role in supporting green IT

Editor's Desk'Commentary: So what can government do to make a difference in support of greener IT? Two things

GCN Editor in Chief Wyatt Kash

It's hard to ignore the amount of energy being poured into saving energy these days ' especially in the world of information technology. Chip-makers Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, in addition to Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems and others, have invested millions in engineering more energy-efficient computers. Special interest groups, from the Green Grid to Energy Star, have also emerged to bring standards to an issue that still bears as much hype as hope.

Given the government's position as a leading buyer and user of IT equipment, it's not surprising many look to government ' and the General Services Administration in particular ' to take a leading role in pushing for greener IT.

Data centers are consuming an increasing amount of power from the nation's electrical grid. Much of the problem stems from energy wasted during idle computer time. As this issue's cover story suggests, a number of promising approaches are being developed to reduce power consumption ' in some cases by half.

However, there's a more fundamental problem: the financial disconnect separating those who buy IT from those who pay for the power to operate it. It's like expecting a truck fleet manager, who buys and maintains the gas-guzzlers, to worry about fuel costs when the expense doesn't come out of his budget ' and he doesn't benefit from savings accrued through smarter stewardship.

That disconnect within government is likely to widen as agencies increasingly outsource their computing services. Service-level agreements will put a premium on performance; how much energy used or wasted is the service provider's problem.

So what can government do to make a difference in support of greener IT? Two things:

One is to accelerate efforts to establish standards for measuring computing performance-per-unit-of-energy consumed. The initial work by the government's Energy Star program to develop data center energy efficiency ratings is a good start. But the sooner standards are established, the sooner suppliers and sellers can make more informed choices.

The other is a suggestion by Keith Thurston of the IT branch of GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy. He advocates developing the means to certify data centers for their energy efficiency ' then ramping up incentives to favor certified data centers over noncertified centers when awarding service contracts.

In the end, it will take not only economic forces and altruism to drive green IT but also smart policies.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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