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“Green” Project Aspires to Reduce IT's Carbon Footprint

Thu, 08/07/2008 - 11:42am
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

“Green” Project Aspires to Reduce IT's Carbon Footprint 

By Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

serverAccording to Doug Ramsey of UC San Diego, “The information technology industry consumes as much energy and has roughly the same ‘carbon footprint’ as the airline industry.” This is because of the unparalleled growth in high-speed electronic equipment, and the corresponding electricity requirements. Not only is energy necessary for the systems themselves, but as IT equipment blossoms, so does their cooling requirements. It’s an implacable scenario that currently plagues the IT industry. Similar to hipster environmentalist celebrities who globe-trot on private jets, how do you conduct scientific research into efficiency issues when your investigative process gobbles up energy?

Scientists and engineers at UC San Diego think they have an answer to this issue. Sponsored by The National Science Foundation, who will provide $2 million over three years, researchers plan to implement their “Greenlight” project. Deriving its name from its stated goal to, “connect scientists and their labs to more energy-efficient ‘green’ computer processing and storage systems,” the project aims to reduce IT’s overall carbon footprint. The nexus of the project is two Sun Modular Datacenter S20s (Sun MD), fully operable after three years. The shipping containers can store up to 280 servers, and when deployed and operating properly, are capable of reducing cooling costs by up to 40 percent.

To calculate Greenlight’s total impact, two interrelated factors deserve consideration. For one, “up to” 40 percent is a very ambiguous term. The average energy savings could be 10-15 percent, with 40 percent as a rare anomaly. This leads to the second factor. If there’s a mere 10-15 percent reduction in cooling costs (and even if it reliably hits 40 percent), how do you leverage that against the price tag of the Datacenters? How long does it take to recoup the initial investment, and move into the black energy-wise? Greenlight is a novel concept that deserves serious consideration and further study within the IT field.

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