Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Lies, damned lies, and conceptual leaps

There’s been a fair bit of commentary the last couple of weeks about a provocative report on the electricity consumption of the IT industry.

Mark Mills, head of an organisation calling itself the ’Digital Power Group’, has written a report called ‘The Cloud Begins with Coal’. Its long subtitle is: ‘Big Data, Big Networks, Big Infrastructure and Big Power: An Overview of the Electricity used by the Global Digital Ecosystem’.

Notice the ‘Coal’ bit. The report was sponsored by the US coal industry – The National Mining Association and the so-called American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. Credibility alert!

The thesis is that because IT consumes so much energy, and because coal is still the main source of energy, then coal is necessary for IT. Coal – and carbon emissions – is therefore IT’s friend.

Let me return to the shaky logic of that thesis a little later. First of all, let’s examine Mills’ treatment of the energy consumption of IT.

The 45 page report examines the electricity usage of every IT related product and service on the planet, from mobile devices to the cloud, including all electricity used for the Internet and other communications. It comes to the conclusion that IT is responsible for nearly 10% of the world’s electricity consumption.

Three years ago I did a similar exercise in Australia. In a report I wrote for the Australian Computer Society called Carbon and Computers, I calculated the total consumption of all IT and communications equipment in Australia. I found that IT was responsible for just over 7% of Australia’s electricity consumption, and subsequently for around 2.7% of all carbon emissions.

Virtually all IT’s carbon emissions are caused by the consumption of electricity – Scope 2 emissions under the GHG Protocol – whereas most greenhouse are caused by direct emissions – Scope 1. That explains the difference between the two figures.

(Embedded carbon from the manufacture of IT equipment was not covered in my study, nor in Mills’, but is substantial).

So Mill’s figure nearly 10% is probably about right. Maybe a bit of an overestimate, but IT electricity continues to rise, and my study was three years ago.

But that’s where we diverge. Mills makes some very pessimistic assumptions about future electricity consumption. It’s well presented, replete with lots of pretty graphs. Trouble is, he’s wrong on most of his figures.

The best critique of the document I have seen comes from Dr Jonathan Koomey, a research fellow at Stanford University. Koomey is probably the world’s foremost expert on the usage of electricity by IT equipment, and I used his work used extensively in my own study.

Koomey has written a blog post methodically debunking Mill’s assumptions, pointing to his long history of peddling disinformation in the area.

Mills has made so many incorrect claims that he simply shouldn’t be treated as a serious participant in discussions about electricity used by IT equipment. He cherry picks numbers to suit his narrative, and creates the appearance of doing real research by including many footnotes, but almost invariably he overestimates the amount of electricity used by IT equipment.

Last time many important people were misled by his antics–I hope they are smarter this time.

If you’re interested in this stuff, read Mills’ report and Koomey’s rebuttal of it. Yes, IT consumes a lot of energy. Yes, it’s growing. But not nearly so fast as Mills says, and he totally ignores the enabling effect of IT in reducing carbon emissions in other areas – work done so well by GeSI’s Smarter 2020 report, amongst others.

But at least that part of Mills ’work is defensible and based on at least the appearance of method and logic. His leap of faith at his coal mining paymaster’s behest is another thing.

Mills parades the tired and discredited arguments of the coal industry that renewables are unreliable and expensive, and that only coal, and lots of it, can provide the energy we need to power the world of the 21st century.

The word ‘emission’ does not appear in his report. It does appear four times in the footnotes, which refer mostly to works that do not reflect his findings and which, as Koomey says, appear to be there mostly to lend his shoddy arguments some academic credibility.

The real killer is the sponsors of the report – the US coal industry. Like Big Tobacco, they will never give up.

Graeme Philipson

© The Green IT Review

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

CompTIA nixes Green IT Exam

CompTIA, the vendor owned certification organisation, has announced it will drop its Green IT Certification course, launched with such fanfare three years ago.

The reason given is that Green IT is now “embedded in the way companies generally do business.”

Something’s going on here, because that is demonstrably false. Green IT is not mainstream – most organisations are struggling with it or ignoring it. Either CompTIA is not telling us the truth, or it doesn’t understand the market. Either way, that’s pretty poor behaviour.

I suspect the real reason is that the organisation is having trouble remaining relevant. It is known to be struggling financially, and is cutting back on things that aren’t making it any money. The Green IT certification is not. I have done the certification, and I have spoken to many of the training suppliers who issue it, and I can tell you it has not attracted a lot of interest.

“The last day to take the certification exams will be 31 December 2013,” says CompTIA. I can think of little better to do on New Year’s Eve. “Those who planned on taking these exams before the end of the year are encouraged to continue their studies and seek certification.”

CompTIA Introduced the certification in 2010, saying it was designed to validate knowledge and skills necessary to implement environmentally sound techniques within an organisation's IT infrastructure. “The product was developed at a time when organisations felt their employees needed to know more about green IT,” said Carol Balkcom, CompTIA director of product management. “However, at this point in 2013, green IT has become embedded in the way companies generally do business.”

That’s news to me, and I’ve been surveying CIOs around the world on their Green IT practices for longer than CompTIA has been offering the certification. Green IT is nowhere near “embedded”.

Not that I will not mourn its passing. The exam and curriculum were way too technical, with an emphasis on the minutiae of things like PC energy saving acronyms while almost totally ignoring the big picture. Former Green IT Review editor Peter Foster, one of the most knowledgeable people I know about the subject, failed the exam.

Whoever put it together had only a very limited knowledge of the real issues of Green IT. Given CompTIA’s ridiculous reasons for dropping the certification, I would say that is true of the whole organisation.

Last year CompTIA (Computer Technology Industry Association) cut its number of offices globally as its revenues fell. In Australia, where I live, its three person office closed and local enquiries are now handled out of South Africa.

It’s partially the GFC – training and certification tend to get cut when times are tough. Fair enough that it has stopped its second-rate Green IT certification, but at least it could be honest as to why it has done so.

Graeme Philipson

© The Green IT Review

Sunday, 4 August 2013

A Brill life, an untimely death

Ken Brill, founder of the Uptime Institute, has died of cancer at the age of 68. The Uptime Institute developed the Tier system of data centre classification (Brill’s own work) and is a leading voice in data centre energy efficiency.

"Ken Brill was a rare and special man," said Martin McCarthy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The 451 Group, which owns the Uptime Institute. "Part visionary thinker, part ruthless pragmatist, he was an iconoclast and innovator, and a man of great integrity and passion. He is legitimately known around the world as ‘The Father of the Data Centre Industry’.

“On behalf of our firm, the clients that Ken devoted his life to serving, and the overall global IT industry, we collectively mourn his passing, and express our condolences to his family and intimates. We will all deeply miss this brilliant and bristly individual."

Brill was the Founder of the Uptime Institute and the Site Uptime Network. Many data centre industry innovations over the past 25 years are underpinned by his original concepts, including dual power, the industry's Tier system for evaluating and classifying data centre facility performance, and IT facility energy efficiency and productivity measurement.

Brill's research into the validity of Moore’s Law, data centre productivity and energy efficiency, and IT economics, have become core knowledge for IT and corporate leaders charged with business performance, profitability and sustainability.

"Ken Brill was inspired in his thinking, and resolute in his principles," said Julian Kudritzki, COO of Uptime Institute. "As a personality and an innovator, he left an indelible imprint on the IT and data centre industry. His innovations are so fundamental to the progression of the industry over time that it is difficult to believe they can be traced back to the energy and passion of a single man. With Ken's passing, the industry mourns a ferocious critic and committed agent of change."

Ken Brill received Lifetime Achievement Awards from 7x24 Exchange International and Datacenter Dynamics. He held an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Redlands, a private liberal arts college in California, and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. He also received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Redlands.

Graeme Philipson

© The Green IT Review

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

UK Government releases second Green IT report

The UK Government has released ‘Greening Government: ICT Annual Report’. It is its second annual report into the effectiveness of Government Green IT.

  •  The average green IT maturity score (see below) has improved from 2.4 to 2.9 in the year since the first report. The Government target is to meet level 3 by 2015.
  •  Four Government departments have endorsed the EU’s Code of Conduct for Data Centres. “Defra is currently working to design guidance for buyers on effective practice for procuring energy efficient data centre services and ensuring sustainability has a high profile in contract management for the increasing number of cloud hosting services being used.”
  • Recycling and reducing waste - The Government Procurement Service (GPS) offers organisations a method for recycling IT assets. “The GPS agreement was used to dispose of 66,448 items, of which 33,514 were resold, generating £405,881.68. A further 8738 items were able to be donated, further reducing the items sent for disposal.”
  • Public service delivery. In the last year the Government Digital Service published the Government Digital Strategy. “This was followed by the publication of individual digital strategies by Government departments. These strategies are fundamental to shifting Government’s approach to interacting with citizens and businesses.”
The report says that over the last year GDU (Green IT Delivery Unit) member departments have delivered “significant improvements in reporting and success measures. In particular qualitative tools such as the green IT maturity assessment have proved successful by introducing a consistency of approach and a common vocabulary.”

The Government’s Green IT Maturity Model

Fifteen departments completed the maturity assessment this year, an increase of three from last year. The following graphics are therefore based on percentages rather than counts of departments.

“The governance of technology across government is currently being reviewed to ensure it enables teams building digital services and supporting technology to interact effectively,” says the report. “As part of this, the green IT agenda will develop a clear link to the cross-government discussions coordinated by the Government Digital Service.

“The outcomes of this review will also support our aim to broaden skills and capability across the civil service. While this work is primarily focused on IT, we will also explore the linkages to broader sustainability activity in government.”

The report also contains a number of case studies.

Green implementation has been struggling in the UK Government for some time. Now it seems we may be getting somewhere.

Graeme Philipson

© The Green IT Review

Monday, 29 July 2013

It’s official – cloud computing does save energy

Does cloud computing really reduce energy demands and greenhouse gas emissions? This has been a subject of debate for some time. The large data centres used for cloud computing are usually more energy efficient than in-house data centres, but there are transmission costs and other overheads.

Add to that the difficulty of proper metrics for cloud computing and there are many difficulties in comparing its energy consumption with older styles of computing. Now a study sponsored by GeSI (Global e-Sustainability Initiative – the people who brought you the Smart 2020 and Smarter 2020 reports) and Microsoft have put some firm numbers on the energy savings from cloud computing.

They are substantial. The study shows that increased use of cloud computing services has the potential to save over US$2.2 billion (€1.65 billion) a year. The savings come from a reduction in energy consumption and reduced global environmental damage. The study finds cloud computing is 95% more efficient – just 1 tonne of greenhouse gas (GHG) created by cloud leads to 20 tonnes abated from customers.

The study is called ‘The Enabling Technologies of a Low-Carbon Economy- a Focus on Cloud Computing’ examines both the energy savings and GHG abatement potential of cloud computing in 11 countries – Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Indonesia, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and the UK.

Download it here

It was conducted by a research team from Harvard University, Imperial College and Reading University. The study says that 11.2 TWh less energy will be consumed annually if 80% of public and private organisations in the countries studied opt to provide cloud-based email, customer relationship management (CRM) and groupware solutions to their staff, beyond current levels of adoption.

This translates to75% of the energy consumed by the Capital Region of Brussels or 25% of the energy consumed by London. It is equivalent to abating 4.5 mega tonnes of CO2 emissions annually or taking more than 1.7 million cars off the road, with 60% of these potential savings from small or micro-sized firms.

Dr Peter Thomond, who led the study, explains: “The findings show, contrary to the perception of power hungry data centres, that the energy efficiency of cloud infrastructure and its embedded carbon outperform on-site services by an order of magnitude. And that is only with these three applications – there are hundreds more.”

But the study says there are many hurdles to the broad adoption of cloud-based services. National policy-making creates uncertainty, even in positive policy documents such as China’s 12th Five Year Plan of Social and Economic Development and Britain’s Carbon Reduction Commitment, which provide a strong public pledge to reduce GHG emissions.

“Few government policies genuinely embrace the enabling potential of the ICT sector treat it more as part of the problem and less part of the solution, and government intent and targets are often neither clear nor justified,” says Dr Thomond. “Governments often fail to embrace the full range of policy instruments at their disposal, in particular, there is an under-utilisation of government leading by example.

“It would help market adoption if more governments walked their talk when providing their services, or considering service procurement. This said the ultimate responsibility for the spread of enabling technologies, such as cloud, naturally lies with vendors, and they too need to act fast to overcome barriers to adoption.

“We need stronger economic cases for cloud, more credible, impartial evidence of how specific services enable GHG abatement, less one-size-fits all marketing approaches and more acknowledgment that the shift to cloud creates behaviour change challenges, too.”

Luis Neves, GeSI Chairman, said: “Cloud-based email, CRM and groupware are only the tip of the iceberg. In 2012, GeSI published the SMARTer2020 study that found that large-scale, systems-enabled broadband and information and communication technologies could deliver a 16.5% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions and save up to US$1.9 trillion in savings by 2020.

“GeSI has taken a strong commitment to demonstrate the enabling potential of cloud computing in how it can tackle the difficult issue of climate change and boost economies”, said Neves. “This GeSI-supported study on the carbon abatement potential of cloud computing offers the first academically rigorous and industrially relevant study of its kind”.

Graeme Philipson

© The Green IT Review

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Green IT Review has a new Editor and Publisher

Welcome everybody. My name is Graeme Philipson, and I am the new editor and publisher of The Green IT Review. Pete Foster started the publication five years ago and has done a fabulous job, but now he wants to enjoy the fruits of semi-retirement.

Pete and I have worked together for a few years. We co-authored a book on the subject (‘The Fundamentals of ICT Sustainability’) and we have worked together on a few Green IT projects. I don’t want to change what Pete has done, but build upon it.

So, who am I? I am based in Australia, and have worked all around the world. I have started or edited a dozen different ICT publications, and I have been a research director at Gartner and couple of its competitors.

My company Connection Research developed the ICT Sustainability Framework (formerly known as the Green IT Framework), and the ICT Sustainability Index (ITSx), which is a quantitative benchmarking tool for Green IT. The ITSx is the methodology used by Fujitsu for its ‘Global ICT Sustainability Index’ report, for which we have done the primary research for the last three years.

In my work as a journalist and analyst I have written scores of articles and reports on the subject, and spoken at many conferences round the world. Green IT is an important subject close to my heart, and I am extremely irritated that it is not treated with more seriousness by more people.

My research has led me to the strong belief that the main reason for this is that most ICT departments do not have responsibility for the energy they consume. When they do, and the energy consumption of ICT equipment is included in their budget, they become real adherents. Funny about that. Energy costs are not going down, and organisations are increasingly waking up to the fact that ICT consumes an enormous amount of energy.

I have some ideas for the Green IT Review. Big ideas, in fact. But, like any publication, it is driven by its readers. Please drop me a line with any thoughts you might have one how we can improve it and make it better suit your needs.

Graeme Philipson

© The Green IT Review

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Green IT Review – last orders

For more than five years The Green IT Review has been keeping readers up to date with green ICT and cleantech market trends while demonstrating the opportunities for CSR operations to make their organisations more sustainable. During that time 1,375 posts have been published generating almost half a million page views (according to Google’s blog statistics).

Direct page views are currently running at around 15,000 a month, with blog posts also regularly republished on other sites. As well as online readers there are 800 subscribers receiving the daily emails. The associated Twitter feed (@GreenITReview) has over 550 followers and items are frequently re-tweeted.

Twitter - Jim

There is significant potential to grow the blog either as a broader, stand-alone information service or in support of an existing sustainable ICT/cleantech business. If you are interested in acquiring The Green IT Review, email me at

Hopefully The Green IT Review will return and continue to help push the ICT and sustainability agenda, but meanwhile there may be a slight pause ….. 

Pete Foster

© The Green IT Review