Power Will Be Wasted, Until IT Pays Its Bills

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Even after years of Green IT promotion, only a minority of IT people know how much power they use. Peter Judge is shocked

The sustainable IT industry won’t like this. After years of activity, the green IT movement has apparently made little practical difference to IT managers’ lives, and sustainability may actually be moving backwards.

More than half of IT managers have no idea how much energy their equipment uses, and overall the maturity of the sustainable IT field is actually decreasing, according to a survey of 1,000 top level IT people carried out by Fujitsu in seven countries.

Don’t pay, don’t care

The reason for the ignorance is clear. Only one in seven IT managers actually has to pay, from the departmental budget, for the electricity which his or her IT equipment uses, according to ICT Sustainability: The Global Benchmark Report, which Fujitsu put together from 1,000 interviews with IT managers in Australia, Canada, China, India, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

IT departments that don’t have to think about their energy use clearly have no incentive to understand or reduce it. “Until this data can be quantified, change cannot be measured and successes cannot be recognised,” said Alison Rowe, Fujitsu’s global executive director for sustainability.

The fact that IT managers can continue to ignore energy costs is particularly shocking, given that energy is the fastest rising cost in data centres.

The report takes a set of factors which put a figure on how “mature” an organisation is in various aspects of sustainability – such as data centre structures, using IT as a way to cut other carbon use, and metrics – the all-important job of measuring results. For each factor a maturity level from 0 to 5 is given.

It then combines these numbers – and pulls together answers from different people, to produce an overall figure for the maturity of sustainability within a given country or sector, expressed as a percentage.

The process – called the “capability maturity model” or CMM, and developed by Watts Humphrey of Carnegie Mellon University – sounds a bit arcane, and is necessarily subjective. But if we give the results a bit of licence, they suggest some interesting things.

Firstly, the overall maturity figure has gone down since Fujitsu’s previous report a year ago, from 56.4 percent to 54.3 percent. “Organisations may be losing their focus on ICT energy efficiency and ICT projects that were implemented have failed to institutionalise changes across the organisation,” says the report.

“Some of the buzz has gone from Green ICT,” said Rowe – adding that unless the hard work of measurement gets done, efficiency never will take hold the way it must.

Good work in the UK and the public sector

Secondly, the UK is doing fairly well compared with other countries. Our maturity level is 58.3 percent, compared with 60.3 percent for Canada, and 56 percent for the US. However, the UK’s figure has gone down from 61 percent in 2010.

Within the UK, it seems Government IT has been doing well – and it is very refreshing to say something good about a sector that seems to be getting everything wrong at the moment. In a time of financial crisis, our public sector has increased its sustainability score from 50.5 to 64.9 percent.

Thirdly, the report believes that large organisations are doing better – which agrees with the received wisdom from many sources such as Google. Organisations with over 5,000 people have an average score of 61.7, while those with 100 to 499 staff only score 50.7 percent.

Back to basics

As I say, there is necessarily a lot of subjectivity in this report – both on the part of the IT managers responding to the survey, and by the researchers compiling the results (and awarding companies those maturity scores).

It may well be that large organisations are simply better at filling in paperwork for surveys like this – or have more dedicated IT staff who might have time to answer such a survey properly.

Since the last survey, government departments have moved through an election to a regime where punitive cuts are the norm and the current government wants to assess them within an inch of their lives. I am sure they have improved their game – but regardless of performance, they will also have evolved very good answers to the kind of questions this report asked them.

Be all that as it may, this survey does underline two things which really should be standard practice by now. Come on IT people, it is high time you measured your energy use! And you should also be paying for it through your departmental budget!

Measure your power. Pay your bills. Nothing will change till IT does this.

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