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Sustainable IT

30 tips for going green with IT operations and equipment.
University Business, Jun 2010
A 1,000-ton water chiller at St. Edward?s University (Texas).

When colleges and universities start assessing their carbon footprint, the IT department is likely to come under fire by virtue of having oversight of much of the energy consumption on campus. Just how much energy do IT functions account for? At Harvard, for example, Sustainability Office Director Heather Henriksen says that IT functions--from data centers to network equipment to desktops and laptops--make up between 13 and 25 percent of the institution’s peak electrical load. “Research computing needs are set to double in five to six years under business as usual,” she adds. “These figures make it clear that university-wide efforts to save energy in IT will be crucial to achieving Harvard’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below our 2006 level by 2016.”

The good news: IT leaders are generally stepping up to the environmental challenge and adjusting operating procedures to be more green. CDW-G’s 2009 Energy Efficient IT Report shows that IT executives who are responsible for the IT energy bill are twice as likely to place high importance on energy efficiency in the purchasing process as executives who do not own the IT energy bill.

Finances aren't the only motivator. “With my interest in cost savings and sustainability, I was excited to volunteer to lead the project,” says Abel Salazar, technical support analyst at St. Edward’s University (Texas), about a semester long experiment testing the performance of recycled paper and toner against new. In the end, St. Edward’s switched to 30 percent recycled paper across campus and to refilled toners in computer labs. And Louise Gava, sustainability coordinator at St. Lawrence University (N.Y.), was delighted to find like-minded colleagues in the IT department when it was time for a new hardware/software rollout. “They approached me when they began their planning, stating that they wanted to do this the right way and asking what they could do,” she says. Read on for 30 tips related to paper, power, virtualization, procurement, and policy from other institutions for greening your own campus’s IT operations.

?Smart? power strips and virtual technology are two of the ways the IT department at St. Lawrence University (N.Y.) is reducing energy consumption.

1. Power down by degrees. The University of Minnesota started a Green Computing Initiative in 2009 that is predicted to save $40 per machine annually. When not actively in use, computers step down: 10 minutes, monitor turns off; 15 minutes, hard drive turns off; 60 minutes, computer enters stand-by mode (this has the largest impact on energy savings). The step-down program/script pushed out to users through central servers and excluded computers that are required to remain on, such as a Point of Sale machine. Lone Star College (Texas) leaders estimate their Desktop Advanced Power Management will save LSC $750,000 in power costs over a three-year period.

2. Configure desktops for power savings. Starting last year, the IT staff at Eastern Kentucky University began a process of configuring the desktop machines in all of the IT labs for power savings to minimize off-peak power consumption.

Harvard hopes ?smart? power strips along with other measures will help meet the goal of greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2016.

3. Be smart about power strips. Applying “smart” power strips for peripherals such as computers, speakers, printers, monitors, and scanners help ensure these devices will not draw power when they are not in use. Since 2008, St. Lawrence has deployed 400 Smart Strip power strips in campus locations such as staff and faculty offices and computer labs. On average, Gava estimates there has been a savings of about 704 kilowatt hours per employee, with about 140,000 kilowatt hours saved annually. St. Edward’s and Harvard are also benefiting from this switch.

4. Manage your endpoints. IT staffers at St. Edward’s are currently testing an array of endpoint power management solutions to find the right balance between availability and efficiency while maintaining the expected student computing experience. St. Edward’s also maintains a regular computing replacement cycle in an effort to benefit from industry advances in power efficiency.

5. Pay for print. “Because paper does grow on trees” is the slogan for the paper reduction effort at St. Lawrence University. Launched in fall 2009, the program allots students 400 free sheets per semester with a $0.06 charge for subsequent sheets. Exceptions are made for paper jams and work-related print jobs. Approximately 241,000 sheets of paper, or 28 trees, were saved the first semester of the initiative. Clark University (Mass.) introduced a similar effort in January, with allotments of 1,200 pages annually with subsequent charges of $0.10 per single-sided sheet or $0.14 per double-sided sheet.

Printing quotas for students at Washington University in St. Louis helps save energy and paper in the effort to make the IT department more sustainable.

6. Monitor printer usage. The first step to improving printing habits is to know what they are. “We want to heighten students’ consciousness on the impacts of excessive printing while also supporting students’ academic and living experience,” says Barbara Braun, director of student technology services for Washington University in St. Louis, one of several institutions to install PaperCut software. Students do not have a print quota, but the top 10 users each week are notified of the impact their printing has on the environment, such as the number of trees used. At Dickinson College (Pa.), 92 percent of students stayed within the 600-page limit implemented in fall 2009. There was a 57 percent drop in the number of pages printed from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2009, or the equivalent of 89 trees. At Lehigh University (Pa.) the quota is currently just for tracking purposes and printers are being removed from dorms and Greek houses, since they weren’t used anyway.

7. X-out excess printing. The 23,000+ students of Metropolitan State College of Denver printed more than 800,000 pages each month. X-Central, a strategic partner of Equitrac that specializes in campuswide implementations, helped the school implement Equitrac Express print management software on 1,000 PCs and 300 Macs, and set student print quotas. Students have visibility into their printing each month and can accept or decline a print job based on their remaining balance. This has reduced student printing by 50 percent, saving 34 tons of paper or 591 trees per month and $50,000 per year for the university.

8. Consider all the aspects. Getting users to change their habits is hard; for instance, printing e-mails. In a move generating a lot of comments in online forums, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay switched the default e-mail font from Arial to Century Gothic. The new font is expected to save money on printer ink. However, it might also result in increased paper usage since it’s wider. In the end, education is still key.

9. Reduce paper use. Administrators at Eastern Kentucky University decided to go green by doing their best to stop using paper at all. In recent years, they have eliminated printing of payroll checks, grades, student invoices, and financial aid award letters. In place of paper, many university forms are now web-based. The telephone directory is also only available in an online version.

10. Try voicemail communication. In an effort to save money and paper, leaders at Los Angeles City College have migrated mass enrollment management communications to students, such as registration dates and session changes, from post cards to voicemails sent through the campus Blackboard Connect service. The move cut the $150,000 mailing price tag in half and saved several trees in the process. Faculty and staff communications are also being sent over the system, which supports e-mail and text messaging.

11. Put more classes online. Administrators at the University of Dallas realized a side benefit of online classes is that students don’t print as much because they are receiving a majority of their instruction online through Pearson LearningStudio. The carbon dioxide the university saved would have amounted to about 10 round trip flights from New York to Los Angeles.

12. Have digital content at your fingertips. Since moving exclusively to Pearson customized eBooks, Louisiana Community & Technical College students are saving an average of 31 percent on their current spring semester materials. Pearson developed the bookstore and site and delivers the content to students immediately so they no longer have to wait for textbooks to arrive in the mail. Everything is electronic, reducing paper waste.

13. Take your forms online. Victor Valley College (Calif.) has been able to save more than $7,447 per month by using FormStack, an online form-building and data application. For over two years, the college has been simplifying many administrative processes while increasing the ability to serve students, faculty, staff, and the community by moving many of their paper-based data collection methods online. With FormStack, they have built processes and forms for needs ranging from admission or job applications to staff evaluations and volunteer solicitations for campus events or operations.

14. Turn to recycled paper and toner. In fall 2009, the IT department at St. Edward’s University conducted a side-by-side experiment with recycled paper and toner involving a green printer and a standard printer in a 24-hour university lab. The results? With toner, it was found that the recycled toner produced a higher page yield per cartridge than standard toner and was purchased at a lower cost than its counterpart. With paper, 30 percent-based recycled paper was found to print almost identically to new paper. After the experiment was completed, IT converted all paper to 30 percent recycled paper in classrooms, labs, and for the entire IT Office. Due to its low cost and high yield, recycled toner is used in all computer labs and classrooms.

Virtual servers at St. Lawrence University (N.Y.)

15. Manage data center power consumption. Sentilla Energy Manager (SEM) provides enterprise software for managing power use in the data center. It measures, tracks, and analyzes the entire data center’s energy profile, and makes recommendations that directly reduce energy use while improving performance. Sentilla offers an integrated approach for managing energy in the data center the same way an IT manager handles other capabilities like security or storage, by providing an end-to-end view across IT equipment that does the work and infrastructure that supports it. With a holistic view of energy as a key data center asset, IT managers are given control to intelligently reduce energy use, while decreasing operational costs and increasing IT equipment utilization.

16. Leverage proven technology. The SciNet consortium, which provides high performance computing resources to the University of Toronto and other Canadian universities, is thinking outside the box when it comes to being green. By leveraging superior technology such as intelligent automation software from Adaptive Computing, IBM's energy-efficient iDataPlex servers and advanced data center facilities design, the supercomputing center has seen a two-to-three times increase in performance while reducing power consumption by 40 percent. This reduction saves enough energy every year to run 700 homes. In addition to intelligent software, SciNet lets Mother Nature help cool their data center: SciNet uses Toronto’s cold winter weather to chill the water that cools their servers, thus saving energy.

17. Refresh, replace, and renew. The Lifecycle Refresh program at The George Washington University (D.C.) replaces older systems with new energy-efficient servers and data center systems that have greater computing power. According to a press release on the program, one new machine can replace three to four old ones with no loss in performance, and by decommissioning older equipment and replacing them with fewer new ones, energy use will significantly decrease by an estimate of between 50 to 60 percent. Lone Star College is also anticipating saving power by decommissioning old servers.

18. Scale down your data center. Since July 2007, Bryant University (R.I.) has worked to slash the data center size in half to 500 square feet through the use of the IBM Scalable Modular Data Center, coupled with data center architecture from APC-MGE. This allowed Bryant to consolidate four server sites into one and reduce its energy usage for storage by 35 percent, saving as much as $20,000 a year. Additionally, the number of servers required for e-mail, registration systems, and student alumni records was reduced to 40 from the 75 needed in 2002. All these changes resulted in data center electrical power consumption reduced by 15 percent, cooling capacity reduced by 42 percent, floor space reduced by 50 percent, physical server count reduced by 47 percent, reduced operational overhead (time savings) 30 percent, and reduced service provisioning from weeks to days. Also, Bryant has been piloting Tivoli’s energy management software in the data center.

19. Give your data center a cold bath. To reduce HVAC costs, the St. Edward’s University data center is cooled using chilled water from a storage tank near the Physical Plant building rather than a rooftop compressor. The chilled water is pumped around campus via St. Edward’s underground pipe infrastructure. This method saves the university $7,100/year in electrical utility savings, a reduction of 46.5 tons of CO2 emissions per calendar year or the equivalent of 11 fewer cars on the road.

20. Create a spitting image. Virtualization hardware and software has been able to reduce the need for physical, dedicated servers. They do this by creating digital duplicates or “images” of the individual servers, and moving multiple images to a single host server. The result is less power consumption and heat generation, and far less physical space. Here are a few examples:

  • In a little over three years, Washington U in St. Louis has virtualized 205 servers onto just 17 physical servers with imaging software from VMware, representing a reduction of over 80 KW of energy usage. The school’s engineering department also runs 60 virtual servers on only four host systems, a 15:1 savings in power costs.
  • At St. Edward’s University, 75 percent of all the university’s physical servers now reside digitally on 84 virtualized servers. “The goal is to get all of them,” reports Tony Chavez, systems manager in computer services.
  • Seattle University joined forces with SunGard HE for a virtualization project that includes the institution’s web servers, database servers, e-mail servers, and file servers. So far, 55 separate servers have been virtualized and moved to a small number of host machines. That has resulted in a 40 percent cost savings and 25 percent savings in maintenance costs.
  • Eastern Kentucky University has moved most of its individual servers to a virtual server environment, dramatically reducing power consumption, while enabling the host machines to run more to their intended capacity.
  • GWU is in the process of moving the bulk of its servers to virtualization, with a goal of 80 percent. Already, with less than 40 percent virtualization, the school says it has avoided using about 700,000 kilowatt-hours, which translates to taking 60 cars off the road.

21. Access your desktop, anywhere. Desktop virtualization allows any computer anywhere to access hosted programs and applications without having them installed locally. Earlier this year, Scottsdale Community College (Ariz.) partnered with Citrix Systems and launched “mySCC,” an online portal that gives nearly 12,000 students and staff free, anytime access to virtual desktops, applications, personal files and network resources from any computer with internet access. The green advantage? Older computers can still be used (and saved from the landfill) because the processing power is hosted remotely. Equipment replacement costs are also reduced.

22. Get the skinny. Thin-client technology replaces PCs with separate terminals that use a central data center to store and process applications. Rockhurst University (Ill.) was able to cut its energy bill by 80 percent by using Wyse thin clients. Other savings result from IT not having to work on multiple computers.

The online bookstore at Louisiana Community & Technical College saves paper by supplying students with textbooks customized to their courses.

23. Buy green. In the 2008-2009 academic year, nearly 100 percent of the Windows computers across the St. Lawrence University campus were replaced. As part of that effort, vendors were given sustainability guidelines, which included sustainable software settings and hardware selections; alternative computer equipment packaging; reducing the number of manuals and CDs shipped; and providing power-efficient desktop and laptop computers.

24. Balance your loads. New servers purchased at Washington University in St. Louis utilize more energy efficient CPUs. Instead of purchasing the X series of Xeon processor, for many systems IT administrators purchased the lower power E series. They also took advantage of the different wattages available for power supplies from HP. Instead of buying power supplies to support the max possible load on a server, WUSTL used the HP power calculator for their specific configurations and “right sized” the power supplies for better efficiency.

25. Integrate procurement and disposal into standard processes. At Harvard, green procurement and disposal are both well integrated in the Ivy League school’s standard procurement and disposal processes. On procurement, EPEAT and Energy Star equipment is standard for desktops, laptops, and other IT equipment. On disposal, Harvard Recycling facilitates responsible disposal of purchased IT equipment, and University Information Services verifies the lessor’s green disposal practices when equipment is leased.

26. Form selection criteria for off-site data centers. Harvard’s cross-departmental Green IT group is discussing a policy that would make green power and efficient operations among the selection criteria for off-site data centers. According to Public Information Officer?Lauren Marshall, the group thinks that by asking about a center’s sustainability compliance, it will encourage data center operations to improve how they handle the other drivers of their center’s emissions: cooling, lighting systems, and the source of their electricity. As these centers become more energy efficient, that in turn will affect what factors will be determined in the group’s selection.

27. E-cycle the big... Many colleges and universities are already taking steps to properly dispose of computers, monitors, TVs, and other electronic items. Georgetown University (D.C.) donates working items to local charities and ensures non-functioning items are properly discarded. Lone Star College finds e-cycling has a better return than sending items to auction. Meanwhile, St. Lawrence University has properly disposed of 15,774 pounds of electronic waste since their initiative started in 2008.

Blue is green at Champlain College (Vt.) where Sustainability Coordina- tor Christina Erickson worked with campus groups to place these special blue cylinders around campus to collect unwanted small electronics like cellphones and CD for recycling.

28. ...And the small. Cellphones and other small electronics are sometimes overlooked in recycling programs, but not at Champlain College (Vt.). Information Services and Sustain Champlain, a campus environmental group, created the “E-waste Not for Landfills” campaign, which placed five blue cylinders around campus to collect these items. Since the program launched in April, the bins have been well utilized with around 20 pounds of materials collected.

29. Think rechargeable. Batteries are an ongoing expense at the front end and also a source of mercury when they’ve died, making them a key part of any green effort. Call2Recycle, a free rechargeable battery and cell phone collection program run by the nonprofit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, advises high-tech gadgets that require portable power on a regular basis, such as digital cameras, are ideal for rechargeables, but slower drain products like remote controls are better with less-expensive, single-use batteries. Another tip: Recharge batteries only when they’re close to no charge. By switching from a paid program to Call2Recycle, the University of Louisville (Ky.) saved an estimated $4,000 in 2009, allowing them to remain sustainable despite a tough economy.

30. Make them pay. In CDW-G’s 2009 Energy Efficient IT Report, 53 percent of higher ed institutions surveyed incent their IT department to save energy. It’s paying off: 54 percent of the institutions have reduced their IT energy costs, up from 38 percent in 2008. And, of course, it’s the green thing to do.