Learning To Implement a Green Data Centre Strategy

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Adjunct Lecturer, Australian National University

For DC GreenTech, Sydney, 12 August 2010

The first globally accredited Green Information Technology course for computer professionals commenced in January 2009. The course uses the web to teach how to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sponsored by the Australian Computer Society as part of an international program for professional education, the course now run at the masters level by the Australian National University.

Course designer Tom Worthington discusses how to build strategies for green computing, reducing the total cost of ownership with consolidated data centres and applications.

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Tom Worthington preparing to depart the USS Blue Ridge by Military Helicopter during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97 Joint Operations Control Centre (JOCC) on aboard Blue Ridge during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97

Here is the usual bio I provide for conference:

Tom Worthington is an independent ICT consultant and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the ANU. He designed the Green ICT Courses for the ACS and ANU. Previously he advised on IT policy at the Department of Defence.

Tom was the founding chair of the ACS Green ICT Group. In 1999 He was elected a Fellow of the ACS for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy in Australia. He is a past president, Fellow and Honorary Life Member of the ACS, a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

One experience at the Department of Defence, while doing web pages for military exercises, seems relevant to this conference. At the invitation of the web master of the U.S. 7th Fleet I visited them on the Flagship on exercises off the coast of Queensland, for some extreme mobile computing. The 18,500 ton, 1,550 crew USS Blue Ridge is a mobile floating headquarters, equipped with ordinary desktop computers used to run military exercises. Standard office software and web browsers are used. This reduces the cost and allows systems to be easily upgraded. Temporary staff, such as the US Marines bring their laptops and stick them to the desktops using green gaffer tape.

The lesson from the US Navy was that that an IT strategy needs to be in simple to survive.

Seven steps for a Green Data Centre

  1. Determine the required services
  2. Consolidate and virtualise
  3. Invest in low-energy IT equipment
  4. Optimise layout
  5. Optimise airflow
  6. Invest in low-energy cooling
  7. Practise energy conscious management

From: Data Centres , Sustainable IT Lecture Series, Natural Edge Project, 2008.

Data Centres have high concentrations of computer systems, telecommunications and data storage equipment, power conditioning, backup power supplies (uninterruptible power supplies: UPS) and air conditioning. This makes them an obvious area to apply a green ICT strategy.

A shortage of data centre space and need for increased computer systems has resulted in increasing density of Data Centres equipment and consumption of large amounts of energy, both by the ICT equipment and the air conditioning needed to cool it. However, a well designed data centre can provide economies of scale, reducing the equipment needed and energy use across an organisation.

The Natural Edge Project (TNEP) suggest seven steps for minimising energy and materials consumption:

  1. Determine the required services for the client environment.

  2. Consolidate and virtualise servers, turning off unused equipment and reducing the amount of server hardware required.

  3. Invest in low-energy IT equipment with power management technologies, low processors, efficient power supplies and low power storage.

  4. Optimise the layout of the data centre equipment to reduce the cooling load.

  5. Optimise airflow around equipment by orienting and spacing equipment to reduce hotspots.

  6. Invest in low-energy cooling technologies, such as direct liquid cooling.

  7. Practise energy conscious management by allocating accountability for energy consumption and costs, and providing reports.

From: Data Centres (Lecture 4) from The Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program, Sustainable IT Lecture Series, Natural Edge Project, 2008

While some of these steps require considerable investment in new hardware, others just need expertise to be implemented. Techniques such as virtualisation can dramatically reduce the amount of equipment needed and its cost. The use of web based applications can further reduce the amount and cost of equipment, without needing any new hardware

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions with ICT


Climate Scientists have recommended a 25% to 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. This is substantially more than reductions which have been debated in Parliament, such as 5% to 15% in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill.

Computers and telecommunications (ICT) are responsible for 2.7% of Australian greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report for the Australian Computer Society. This is primarily from the burning of coal to generate electricity to run computers and telecommunications.

The Climate Group estimate that more effective use of computers and telecommunications can deliver a reduction of 15% in emissions. This would be by using ICT more efficiently so it uses less energy and applying ICT more effectively so that emissions from industry are deduced.

Existing ICT infrastructure can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relatively quickly, without the need for extensive new investment in equipment of infrastructure. However, this does require ICT professionals to have new skills to measure emissions, design systems to reduce emissions and convince their clients to do so. These skills can be provided using e-learning.

Green ICT Course As an Example of a Consolidated Application

The ACS and the ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System. This is used to provide forums for students to discuss what they are learning, not just receive content prepared by teachers. The techniques of using mentored collaborative on-line learning for computer professional education were developed for the ACS by David Lindley. This allows a full formal university level education to be provided with the student never having to attend a campus. Apart from saving the providers the cost of classrooms, this save on energy expended in student travel.

Both ANU and ACS decided to have their e-learning systems hosted by specialist e-learning providers. As a result the systems are running on shared server also used by other institutions and students, reducing cost and environmental impact. This consolidation is actually a byproduct of the need to have specialist staff maintaining the e-learning software.

Mobile Devices and iPads

The Moodle system used by ACS and ANU is designed to work with accessible standards compliant web pages on standard compliant web browsers. As a byproduct of this the application can be used on a smart phone, such as an Apple iPhone or Google Android device, a tablet computer, such as an Apple iPhone, as well as on a net-book. As a result users do not need a full size laptop or desktop computer. As well as giving them more freedom to work where they want and not be desk-bound, money and energy are saved when a low power hand held device is used in place of a larger device.

It is not feasible to have every copmp[uter application run on a remote server. However in many cases a simple Offline Web applications as provided for in the HTML 5 draft standard will be sufficient. This allows caching of relatively static content on the client computer, with limited creation of new content offline, and then synchronisation when on-line. Such a system can be implemented relatively simply with HTML5, without the need for additional software on the client computer. Having only a limited offline capability can be an advantage to a business, as it prevents too much corporate data from being held outside the control of the corporate data centre.

More Information

  1. Green ICT Strategies COMP7310, Masters program, The Australian National University, from July 2009
  2. ACS Green ICT Course
  3. Green ICT Book
  4. Tom Worthington
  5. This document is available at: www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/green_data_center_strategy/

Slides for these notes are also available.

Copyright © 2010 (Version 1.0, 1 August 2010) Tom Worthington

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Learning To Implement a Green Data Centre Strategy by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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