Green Computing: Needs and Approaches

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The term “Green IT” is sometimes mistakenly considered as only the ways in which the IT industry itself can become more sustainable but in reality, Green IT includes all the assistance that IT can provide to make society greener, including IT itself. Sustainability is giving future generations as many opportunities as, if not more than, we have had ourselves”. Scientific evidence suggests that humanity is not living in a sustainable way. Although people are becoming more and more aware of environmental issues, we still need to improve our efforts to avoid profound and potentially catastrophic global change. The term “Green” has become connected with this sense of awareness; the word choice is based on the primary colour of plant leaves and reflects a concern for the ecosystems in which humans exists. The second trend involves IT, the use of digital tools and techniques for manipulating information, and the social phenomena that surround these systems. Green IT combines two major areas: Environmental issues and IT, and discovers the methods in which they can link to each other. In addition, it inspects ways in which IT can be used to tackle and solve issues related to ecosystem. It is very important to understand that not all aspects of IT are eco-friendly. Computation occupies a large amount of power consumption word wise, and electronic waste (e-waste) is a rapidly growing concern and methods of disposability implied are deeply concerning. “According to a report by the Gartner research firm, the IT sector emits CO2 at a rate approximately equivalent to that of the airline industry”. Although this rate is increasing on a rapid pace in the mobile computing areas, but it is very important to mention that the positive environmental benefits enabled by IT are 5 times greater than the environmental footprint of IT itself. The complexity of environmental issues depicts that IT itself might have innovative solutions on most of the environmental issues.

 

What is Green Computing?

According to Dr. Pardeep Mittal, “Green Computing is an application of environmental science which offers economically possible solutions that conserve natural environment and its resources. It can be defined as environmentally responsible use of computers and its resources”. While San Murugesan notes that Green IT “is the study and practice of designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and associated subsystems such as monitors, printers, storage devices, and networking and communications systems efficiently and effectively with minimal or no impact on the environment”. Therefore, Green Computing could be expressed as the responsible usage of computers and its related components and assets so that the natural environment and its resources could be conserved while maintaining overall computing performance. Environment is affected on various levels by the digital revolution. Specifically, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has environmental impacts via operation, disposal of devices, manufacturing, and network equipment. Thus there is a high need of green computing in the contemporary world. Few of the impacts of IT on environment is discussed below so that to get an idea of the need an importance of green computing.

Environmental impacts of IT

The effects that the existence of technology causes to arise are classified as first-order effects which include GHG emissions, e-waste, hazardous substances and the use of scarce and non-renewable resources.   

  • GHG Emissions: One of the key challenges that IT faces is the issue of power consumption and its accompanying GHG emissions. A recent online debate proposed that a single online search produces 7 grams of CO2 @ (less than what is required to heat up a pot of tea) which was disproved by Google with its own estimation of 0.2 grams of CO2. Nevertheless, power consumption is a major problem for the search company. Google has started looking for more economical power supplies and has moved its server farms on the banks of the Columbia River in Oregon. According to a study conducted by Mingay in 2007, the ICT sector is responsible for approximately 2 to 2.5 percent of global CO2 emissions. The same study showed how ICT’s global carbon footprint amount is broken down across various areas (pie chart).
  • Electronic Waste: Advancement in technology makes people look forward for the “next big thing” but the important question here is what about the “last big thing”? Different OS systems that did not run on as many computers which lead to need for it to be replaced and discarded. Discarded technology is a substantial environmental issue. This hasty turnover rate of IT is leading to massive amount of e-waste. E-waste is mostly disposed in countries where regulations aren’t strict enough thus causing some nations to be immune from this tragedy while others made forcefully live through it.
  • Hazardous Substances: E-waste is composed of a variety of hazardous substances such as lead used in CRT screens. The inappropriate disposal of e-waste causes toxins to end up in the water and food of third world countries. Programs to reuse and recycle technologies are widely made available for public but unfortunately, people do not make of use of them due to lack of understanding and awareness.
  • Scarce and Non-renewable Resources: IT devices requires several resources like lead, mercury and cadmium that are scarce, non-renewable or simply problematic. Nearly all the mobile phones and laptops contain capacitors which are made from Tantalum produced by refining coltan ores. Coltan mining not only was caught up in the civil war of the Congo but has also invested to the endangerment of the eastern lowland gorilla. Despite of this, coltan mining will not be stopped any time sooner or later because of its increasing demand.

Approaches for green computing

  • Virtualization: The abstraction of computer resources through different techniques to construct a virtual environment is called computer virtualization. When several physical systems are combined into virtual machines by a system administrator on one single powerful system through virtualization, power and cooling consumption is reduced and original hardware is unplugged. Numerous open source projects and commercial companies give software packages to aid in transition to virtual computing.
  • Terminal servers: Another method used for green computing is terminal servers. Operating systems are delivered to end users by both Terminal Services for Windows and the Aqua Connect Terminal Server for Mac. User’s terminal into a central server by this method. Server level is where all the computing is done but the end user familiarities with operating system. To create virtual labs, a rise is seen in using terminal servers with thin clients. A normal workstation’s 1/8 of energy is consumed by thin clients. Using thin clients with a terminal server delivers the Windows or Mac operating system to end users while also decreasing energy costs and consumption.
  • Power Management: The power saving aspects of its underlying hardware is directly controlled by an operating system which an open industry standard is called the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI). This permits a system to automatically switch off constituents like monitors and hard drives after set periods of idleness. Also a system can hibernate, where most of the parts consisting CPU and RAM are turned off..
  • Power Supply: The power supplies (PSUs) of desktop computers are approximately 70-75% efficient, left behind energy is dissipated as heat. 80 PLUS, an industry initiative, certifies PSUs that are at least 80% efficient thus replacing the older, less efficient ones. Now all Energy Star 4.0-certified desktop PSUs must be at least 80% efficient..
  • Storage: In comparison with physically larger drives, smaller form factor hard drives mostly consume lower power per gigabyte. In contrast to hard disk drives, solid state drives accumulate data in flash memory or DRAM. Power consumption maybe less for low capacity flash based devices due to no moving parts. Hard disks might use less power than DRAM based SSDs even at modest sizes. Storage farms have a tendency to upsurge the capacity to make more data available online as hard drive prices have dropped. This includes archival and backup data that would formerly have been saved on tape or other offline storage. Power consumption has increased due to the online storage. A continuing research is how to reduce power consumption while still offering the advantages of online storage.
  • Telecommuting: There are many advantages in the implementation of teleconferencing technologies as a part of green computing initiatives. Some of them are; increased worker satisfaction, decrease of greenhouse gas emissions related to transport and higher profit borders as an effect of decreased overhead costs for office space, lighting, heat etc.

By: Dr. Youssef Harrath

College of Information Technology, University of Bahrain