How We Got Here

IT is a service department. It exists solely to serve the needs of the company that pays it. This brings to mind a highly efficient operation with skilled professional working heads-down all day, five days a week. It brings to mind a busy data center full of quiet machines working diligently amid the whirlwind of chilled air rushing between the equipment racks. The reality is much messier.

IT systems are not a single monolithic device. They run on a hodgepodge of hardware, ranging from old servers with upgraded components to storage area networks to equipment from different manufacturers each operating at their own priorities. Applications software is the product of utility programs plus specially coded programs complicated by the operating system and network connections. Application servers depend on the performance of storage area networks and database servers. All of this is further confused by information security constraints. Each of these variables is in flux through software and firmware patches, as well as hardware upgrades.

The Green Computing problem has emerged incrementally. New data systems are carefully planned but then rushed into existence. Most IT projects are over budget and late. They suffer from low involvement of the project sponsor and the people who will be using them. As these systems are installed, they often include extra files and software steps for troubleshooting logic problems. Due to the rush to completion, these files, along with performance tuning, will not be addressed until some future time. Primarily, this is the result of the project team moving on to the next project before this new system is stable. And so, the application development cycle begins anew.

The result is an inefficient system that (somehow) works. If an application seems to run too slowly, it is moved to a more powerful server. Since careers are built on installing new solutions and not on cleaning up existing ones, the inefficiency becomes permanent. The longer an application exists, the less likely it is that anyone knows the reasons why things are set up as they are. Because no one has the time to investigate, the inefficient system struggles on. Given the backlog of work in IT departments, it is cheaper to pay for more electricity than to pay someone to address these issues.

IT systems support many areas of waste. On-line disk storage is an excellent example. A lot of redundant data is stored throughout data centers. This can mean an excessive number of copies of mirrored files, data with excessively long retention times, and so on. Many companies require departments that use disk storage to pay for it through internal funds. This places the responsibility for efficient management in the wrong hands! It adds yet another corporate layer between the people creating the electric bill and those who pay it.

Another cause for storage waste is treating all files equally. Files that are rarely used should be aggregated onto the same drives that can be compressed for more efficient use and then turned off when not needed. This reduces the number of drives required, saves electricity, and reduces cooling requirements, since they will not be generating heat.

Finally, little thought is given to surplus equipment and broken electronic parts. It collects in closets and in the corners of offices until, out of frustration; someone quietly tosses it in the trash bin. This exposes the environment to toxic materials and companies to potential legal sanctions.

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