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Can IT ever be green?

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Created 17/04/2010 - 12:52
Ipad, I phone, Google, facebook, small and smart they may be but behind these devices lie huge energy hungry data centers. This week ENVIRONMENT looks at Green IT.

2010-04-17 11:40-WB EN ENVIRONMENT
They may be virtual but websites have a very real carbon footprint: their files are stored on servers and these banks of servers, need a lot of power. The world's data centres are said to produce the same level of CO2 as the Netherlands and Argentina put together.

Every time you turn on your computer, make a search in Google, or update your facebook status you’re burning CO2 as the information you send and receive whizzes round the world and add to the carbon cloud.

In an old school data centre, a high density of machines means a lot of heat is produced. The information warehouse needs constant cooling and so energy guzzling air conditioning needs to be on all the time. Some companies are now looking for ways of reducing their energy needs for economic as well as environmental reasons.

German host 1&1 stores 30 000 servers underground at its premises in Karlsruhe. The servers are powered by generators with less then 20% thermal loss and the computer hardware is chosen according to its energy efficiency. What’s more, the buildings cooling system uses the air outside to help get temperatures down.

“For ten years now we have been doing our utmost to build energy efficient databases. When we started, the term green technologies did not exist.
We did it for financial reasons and because by doing so, we behave in a responsible manner through investing in alternative energies,” notes Mathias Loacher, head of infrastructure at 1&1 European data centres.

Since 2007, the company supplies all of its data centres and offices with electricity produced from renewable energies. This has allowed it to reduce its CO2 output by 30,000 tonnes per year, and to describe itself as the first green host.

A plus for the companies Green credentials but also for its budget. Energy costs represent over 50% of a company’s budget.

Today, data centres represent already 3% of worldwide energy consumption, a figure that is on the increase. Every PC and internet search adds to the problem as the information retrieved from the internet is stored on serves, in a virtual world known as ‘cloud computing’.

This ‘cloud computing’ is the target of Greenpeace’s latest environmental campaign.
Facebook in particular has been served notice. The leading social network site has millions of members, most of who visit daily. Facebook is currently building its first data processing center in Prineville in the U.S, which is to be powered by a coal plant but it says that it is just using the main energy supply of the area.

But the main website in the crosshairs of the environmentalists is search-giant Google. Each year, Google deals with billions of requests to its site, requiring thousands of servers worldwide.

Surfing the web causes pollution but there are ways of limiting CO2 emissions while surfing the net. A website called proposes a list of tips to do just that.

Finally ENVIRONMENT looks at one mobile telephone that uses 100% renewable energy.
Recharging the phone couldn’t be easier; the owner just places it in the sunlight. Even if it's cloudy you’re assured a quarter of an hour of conversation.

The telephone is proving very popular in Kenya where electricity remains rare. Solar telephones are selling like hot cakes. But not everyone is happy about it. In the slums of Kibera, David Moukaka makes a living by offering to recharge mobile phones. Its 20 centimes a charge and he gets around half a dozen customers a day. Unfortunately for David, the electricity cuts are increasing and so more and more people are turning to solar power.

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