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Sustainable IT initiatives in universities

The following fascinating chart plots sustainable IT interventions in terms of implementation difficulty versus impact. It was created as part of a study of strategies employed by universities and community colleges in the state of  Maryland, USA by Suresh Balakrishnan and Donald Spicer (2008). The sizes of the bubbles represent the implementation stage and pervasiveness of the interventions (small = in planning and/or at few sites; large = mature and/or broadly in place). (Click on the graphic to view it at full size)

Analysis of Sustainable IT Initiatives in HE (source: Balakrishnan, S. & Spicer, D.Z. 2008. "Climate change, campus commitments and IT". Research bulletin, Issue 20. Boulder, USA: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. Available from: http://www.educause.edu/ecar.

Analysis of Sustainable IT Initiatives in HE (source: Balakrishnan, S. & Spicer, D.Z. 2008. "Climate change, campus commitments and IT". Research bulletin, Issue 20. Boulder, USA: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. Available from: http://www.educause.edu/ecar.

So, for example, the consolidation and virtualisation of servers in the data centre is an intervention that is commonly employed in many institutions and the technology to do so is relatively mature. Its impact in terms of energy efficiency and conservation is high, while it is moderately-to-highly-difficult to implement in a university environment (partially, I would guess, because university IT environments are so diverse).

At Stellenbosch University we have implemented, or are implementing, a fair proportion of these strategies such as:

  • server virtualisation and consolidation
  • videoconferencing from laptops
  • remote management of CPUs
  • proper disposal procedures (see our e-waste initiative)
  • power management of PCs
  • print management for students
  • replacing CRT monitors.

However, to date many of the interventions have been driven by other reasons besides sustainability criteria, e.g. server virtualisation has been undertaken to counter the lack of rack space and to simplify the server provisioning process, amongst others. One of the reasons for creating a Sustainable IT initiative and competency centre is to bring all these interventions under a coherent, deliberate and measurable programme that focuses on sustainability criteria – the bottom line.

It is also interesting to note that many of our interventions are clustered in the “high difficulty, high impact” quadrant and we have not as yet plucked the “low-hanging fruit” of purchasing Energy Star (or EPEAT) certified computers. The chart will help us to focus our activities on higher returns on effort and resources – at least initially.

Recently Forrester Research released a report entitled “TechRadar I&O for Professionals: Green IT 1.0 Technologies, Q2 2009” that assesses the business value and maturities of various so-called “Green IT 1.0” technologies (Green IT 1.0 apparently refers to strategies that focus on the “IT asset lifecycle”, while Green IT 2.0 organisations apply technology to reduce the impacts of business activities in the broader sense). Although the ECAR report includes Green IT 1.0 and 2.0 technology interventions from an operations perspective while the Forrester report focuses on technologies, it is nevertheless interesting to compare them.

The impact of Green IT 1.0 initiatives (Source: Forrester Research, Inc)

The impact of Green IT 1.0 initiatives (Source: Forrester Research, Inc)

In general, comparable technologies/interventions in the two reports broadly agree in terms of value/impact and maturity/phase. However, the reports seem to differ quite a bit about the impact/value of PC power management, with ECAR rating its impact somewhat lower.

Of more interest, however, is the collection of technologies that Forrester assesses that do not appear in the ECAR report. Some technologies such as “localised cooling” – on-board and on-chip cooling technologies – will be embedded in equipment and cannot be the subject of user-driven interventions or strategies – until they become mainstream components of IT equipment.

But it is instructive that universities appear not to be considering outsourced or co-located data centres. In South Africa’s HE sector too there is a strong resistance to off-site, outsourced services, shared services and collaborative consortia, despite the potential savings and efficient usage of scarce resources. Similarly, there is some resistance to “cloud computing” although this may well be driven by our notorious bandwidth constraints. Some universities have made the jump to outsourced student e-mail and others may well follow as soon as the bandwidth bottleneck is removed, hopefully in 2010.

References:

Balakrishnan, S. & Spicer, D.Z. 2008. Climate change, campus commitments and IT. Research bulletin, Issue 20. Boulder, USA: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. Available from: http://www.educause.edu/ecar.

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2 Responses to “Sustainable IT initiatives in universities”

  1. Tim says:

    Awesome article, particularly like where PC Power Management is positioned in your second image!

  2. Hey every body- which is the top place to recycle electronic waste that you’ve heard of?

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