How to reduce your ICT energy costs

The larger your company, the higher your ICT energy levels are likely to be if you rely substantially on computers, data banks and/or large networks to operate your day to day business. As an example, many universities and colleges here in the UK spend approximately £147 million per year (opens PDF) on ICT related energy costs (correct at the time of the linked report). For this particular market sector, the UK climate change act of 2008, which targets higher and further education establishments has decreed that they must reduce their carbon footprint by 34% by the year 2020, and 80% by the year 2050, when compared to their energy level consumption back in 1990.

Of course, it's not only desirable from an environmental point of view, but companies would also benefit from a financial and ethical standpoint too.

Identifying ICT energy cost

But in order to be able to effectively reduce ICT energy costs, you must first be able to identify them, which may not be as simple as it sounds. For many organisations this identification process also means defining costs that are related to equipment cooling systems, and uninterrupted power supplies. These may not be immediately transparent, or indeed, easily accessible.

This often results in certain categories of costs being lost within the overall energy cost. Added to this is the possibility that billing in larger organisations is often centralised; or, if costs are allocated on a departmental basis, they can often be mixed in with the costs of other departments that inhabit the same floor, or floor-space. Without a comprehensive breakdown, it will therefore be difficult to be able to research the possibility of reducing ICT energy costs effectively. In other words, to be able to successfully identify ICT energy costs, a new system of metering may have to be introduced into the organisation, or the other alternative is that independent calculations will have to be carried out based on individual product power usage.

One thing is for sure though and that is, without accurate information, it will not be possible to calculate, or even measure, the benefit and savings from introducing behavioural changes or changing the infrastructure of the system or system hardware, in any way.

Behavioural change

There are 3 main areas where savings can be made, behavioural, hardware, and infrastructure.

Behavioural changes (such as switching off computers when not being used) involve getting staff on board, and getting them to embrace the changes. The larger the organisation; the higher the potential reduction from behavioural change that can be realised; but even so, this type of reduction in ICT related costs, in not going to be as large as the likely savings from change to either hardware, or infrastructure.

If the organisation has a Content Management System (CMS), then training can be set up by adding a Learning Management System (LMS) to the network in order to train staff about energy in a cost effective manner. This can also reinforce the ethic viewpoint of the company and the need to reduce its carbon footprint.

Reducing ICT energy costs through hardware change

If hardware is bought, owned or leased by a company, changes may only be possible once the hardware has come to the end of its useful life, or the lease is coming to its end, unless the lease has any facility for change at some sort of addition premium.

The hardware to be considered is all of the hardware within the ICT infrastructure, including servers, PCs, laptops, printers, fans etc. As technology changes and environment issues continue to impact, lower energy consumption will be built in to new breed hardware. Specifications can be examined, and if better spec machines are available, that incorporate reduced energy consumption, more energy efficient hardware can then be introduced and taken advantage of, providing of course that the cash is available for this sort of reinvestment – something that is increasingly more difficult when times are tough.

Reducing ICT energy costs through changes in the ICT infrastructure – going Cloud

This is the one area where significant changes can be realised, either by changing the existing infrastructure in-house, or deciding to go cloud. Choosing cloud will have the largest and most significant reductions to any businesses ICT energy costs. Instead of the organisation owning and operating its own hardware on its own premises, it can instead deploy to the cloud, either publicly, privately, or in a hybrid. Either way, it means that significant amounts of conventional hardware can be replaced with virtual hardware housed in the cloud at a data centre.

The Implications of going Cloud

There are many implications with regard to cloud deployment and many depend on the size of the business in question. Security has traditionally been the biggest concern surrounding the use of cloud, as many businesses don’t trust the idea that data is stored away from the business premises. However, it’s becoming more accepted that cloud actually offers better protection and back up procedures than on site storage.

Deploying to the cloud does however warrant careful consideration. At first, it can appear that the costs are prohibitive, but you have to remember that all other costs, (including things like cooling, etc) will either be proportionately reduced (in the case of hybrid cloud), or totally negated. You will also have to take into consideration the comparable costs of conventional hardware depreciation, the lack of reinvestment involved, and the easing of cash flow. There is also the advantage of being able to up or downsize at the drop of a hat.

Measuring ICT energy usage on an ongoing basis

The one thing you should bear in mind, whichever option you may take, is that you should continue to measure your ICT energy usage and compare it to current alternatives on an ongoing basis, as circumstances, offers, and technologies continually change.

We’re living in a world where the consumer is becoming more environmentally aware too, so the business that can present itself as one that proactively approaches energy-saving is one that is likely to have a more future proof business model.

Checklist for Reducing ICT Carbon Footprint

1.      Check all electrical equipment and the energy it consumes

2.      Prepare training and policies for employees to reduce machines on standby

3.      Ensure network cabling standards are fit for purpose

4.      Consider cloud deployment and the use of IT equipment that reduce energy costs such as thin clients

5.      Check electrical installations to see where up-to-date installations can save energy (and costs) in the long term

Reducing the carbon footprint in an organisation may take a little time, but the long-term benefits outweigh any initial investment in terms of both energy consumption and revenue savings.

Photo by Ioan Sameli