The Next Generation of Green IT


By Samuel Greengard

A decade ago, green computing was a concept mostly relegated to a handful of granola-crunching environmentalists who just happened to have the title of CEO slapped in front of their name. Then came the Great Recession, a radical jump in the cost of energy and a younger generation that embraces sustainability. Suddenly, green IT represented a bona fide way to slash utility bills.

Today, green computing has gone mainstream in the enterprise. Computer manufacturers design servers and storage devices for greater energy efficiency, virtualization and cloud computing are viewed as tools to reduce data-center energy costs, and CIOs increasingly focus on ways to architect networks and data centers for maximum efficiency.

However, there's a fundamental problem: As organizations become more reliant on the Internet, networked communication and cloud computing for mission-critical tasks, there's near-zero tolerance to sacrifice performance for energy savings. Straddling the line between these two distinct worlds is daunting, and the growing complexity of IT is sometimes overwhelming. No CIO wants to take a hit—and possibly forfeit customers—because of energy efficient but subpar systems.

The upshot? Some executives are taking a close look at workload management software and other tools that optimize IT environments. A handful of vendors, such as Adaptive Computing and VMTurbo, have taken aim at high performance computing and cloud environments that are at the center of this next generation of green IT. These systems consolidate workloads, power down components when they aren't required and offer processors optimized for energy efficiency, such as Intel's Xeon chip.

In fact, the words "performance" and "energy efficiency" are no longer an oxymoron. At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the Beacon supercomputer is now one of the fastest and most powerful systems in the world but it is also the most energy efficient. It operates at a ratio of 2.5 gigaflops per watt. Meanwhile, the fastest supercomputer in the world, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Titan (which uses both GPUs and traditional CPUs to achieve a rating above 10 petaflops), is about 10 times more powerful than its predecessor but draws only slightly more power.

Sustainability and green IT are not getting any easier. Many organizations have already snagged the low hanging kilowatts. However, for savvy CIOs, the next generation of savings is both a challenge and an opportunity. The bottom line is that there's still green in green IT.