The green data centre

Friday, 09 February, 2007



The green revolution has finally hit the IT community. And whether such solutions are being implemented due to legislation, commercial reasons or a genuine concern for the environment, change is afoot.

The kickstart for many manufacturers was the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive that was implemented on 1 July 2006. In fact, computer and electronic manufacturers have had no choice but to clean up their act if they want to continue supplying components and products to Europe.

The newly-implemented legislation has banned any electrical and electronic products in the marketplace that contain more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and polybrominated biphenyl or polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants.

The directive came about in an effort to reduce the risks to human health of the manufacturing of such substances, as well as environmental considerations involved in the manufacture, use, disposal and/or recycling of these products.

Intel is one example of a manufacturer that quickly developed some RoHS-compliant product lines in response to the legislation. The company has also been quick to point out that other countries are also considering RoHS legislation of their own.

Planning for future legislation

Japan has had a version of RoHS in place since 2000 and recently passed amendments to this that came into effect on 1 July 2006. China has also passed a version of RoHS that is more stringent even than the European guidelines. It comes into effect on 1 March this year.

A recent release from Gartner has warned manufacturers that they need to invest in research and development to ensure products are not just compliant with the current green regulations, but plan for future legislation, as more governments around the world are imposing environmental regulations.

Meike Echerich, principal research analyst at Gartner, says manufacturers should standardise on the most stringent legislation and anticipate green concerns to avoid production problems as more countries move to adopt such directives.

"Failure to transition products on time can lead to high inventories and dramatic price cuts, similar to the effect we saw in Western Europe as the RoHS came into effect," she said.

"Non-compliant products will gradually be removed from the supply chain and force manufacturers to discontinue products that contain them."

Just 43% of the current PC installed base worldwide is affected by the RoHS legislation. Gartner suggests some manufacturers that ship only to the US, Middle East and some other non-European countries feel they need not concern themselves with it.

Others are running two production lines - one for the newer 'green' RoHS-compliant products and one that continues manufacturing to traditional specifications.

Melissa Freeman, senior marketing executive at Farnell InOne, believes it is beneficial for manufacturers to think beyond just the current guidelines, if only from a supply chain perspective.

"Locally, the advent of RoHS compliance has already been felt as a supply chain issue. Manufacturers are consolidating their product lines into exclusively RoHS-compliant products, hence reducing the availability of non RoHS-compliant components," she says.

The green business movement

Worldwide, businesses are being encouraged to think about the impact they are having on the global environment, whether it be for waste or energy usage. Many are looking to reduce or eliminate their carbon footprint by setting up 'green data centres'.

More and more vendors are spruiking the environmentally-friendly aspects of their systems by developing power-efficient options and offering recycling programs for redundant IT equipment.

This is an area that may soon also be subject to legislation. Last month, US President George Bush directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study energy use in data centres.

The six-month study will respond to growing concern over the amount of energy needed to run the equipment - as well as the air conditioning to keep it cool - found in some data centres.

In early January, Dell introduced its own environmental initiative with its 'Plant a Tree For Me' global carbon-neutral system. The program is designed to offer US customers the opportunity to offset the emissions associated with the electricity used to power their computers.

Michael Dell has partnered with The Conservation Fund and Carbonfund.org, two non-profit organisations that will use the funds to plant trees in sustainably-managed forests to absorb the carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere from generated electricity.

A customer donation of US$2 for a notebook and US$6 for a desktop will go towards the tree planting. The carbon dioxide absorbed by the resulting trees is supposed to offset the equivalent emissions resulting from the production of electricity used during the average three-year use of a computer.

Waste not, want not

The continued frenetic evolution of technology has meant IT hardware remains a significant issue when it comes to waste, and the European Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive was introduced this month to combat the issue.

Many leading IT vendors have already introduced, or are introducing, recycling programs.

For example, HP Australia's Planet Partners Hardware Return and Recycling Programme offers its customers an efficient way to dispose of their used equipment.

It accepts end-of-life HP and non-HP computer and printing hardware such as scanners, PCs, servers, monitors and printers and disposes of them in a "socially and environmentally responsible manner".

According to Gartner, the disposal and recycling of computer products will become another primary focus worldwide in the future.

Currently, there are 23 countries worldwide that have take-back laws for electronics, each a little different from the other. It is estimated that within five years, at least 30 countries will have legislation governing this area.

This is another area in which it will benefit vendors to stay ahead of the game in order to ensure compliance for the future. Only then will the concept of the green data centre become a reality.

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