Eco IT

Have you heard of Ecofont? Developed by Ecofont BV, a software company based in the Netherlands, Ecofont is a green or sustainable font or typeface. Designed with small imperceptible holes, the font uses 25 percent less ink or toner than conventional typefaces.

If you’ve never thought about the idea of green or sustainable or eco-friendly IT, you may be surprised to learn that green computing has a huge and growing following among IT directors generally and a number of K-12 school district IT directors.

In fact, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a Washington, D.C.-based association for school district technology directors, launched a green initiative for schools about 18 months ago. The goal is to help schools save energy, reduce waste and promote sustainability. The association has developed a green computing Website with a wealth of resources.

Among the school districts that have launched green IT programs is the 21,000-student Judson Independent School District (Judson ISD) in San Antonio. “Our district doesn’t have an overall green initiative, but we launched our own initiative in IT,” says Steve Young, chief technology officer with Judson ISD and a member of the Green Computing Impact Organization, Inc. a non-profit that assists IT organizations in adopting sustainable practices.

Young has turned his department green to cut or at least manage the cost of energy, which is his job, and to fulfill his sense of social responsibility, which is his passion.

In coming years, Judson ISD expects to see dramatic increases in energy costs. San Antonio-based CPS Energy, a regional utility company, estimates that the prices it charges will swell by 50 percent by 2020. After 2020, the company says utility costs will surge upward at increasingly faster rates.

Young’s green strategy focuses on three green basics: energy-efficient use of computers, sustainable purchasing practices and environmentally friendly disposal of old equipment.

Taming Raging Computer Network Costs

Judson ISD’s green computing initiative began with virtual computing, a concept that turns one desktop computer into four with a piece of hardware developed by N Computing of Redwood, Calif.

According to N Computing, most computers use only about 5 percent of the capacity offered by today’s powerful microprocessors. N Computing has figured out how to share that capacity among multiple users.

Young has configured his desktops so that four users tap the computing power of one desktop. In action, the real desktop connects to three N Computing boxes. Each box in turn connects to a monitor with a keyboard and mouse. These so-called thin clients run software from the desktop and carry out computing tasks as if they were four real desktop computers — instead of three virtual computers and one real computer.

In addition, Young has virtualized his servers with a product made by VMware, Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif.

All told, Young’s district-wide network includes about 6,800 desktops and laptops plus 2,550 virtual desktops as well as 59 servers plus 39 virtual servers.

Server virtualization saves some money, but the big savings come from the desktop savings. According to Young, deploying 9,350 desktop computers across the district would cost about $2.4 million. The virtualization program, however, slashes those acquisition costs by half.

Sustainable Purchasing Practices

In addition, Young implemented a policy of replacing old desktops with new EPEAT gold/ENERGY STAR computers.

Based in Portland, Ore., the Green Electronics Council created EPEAT or the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool several years ago. It is a procurement tool designed to help buyers evaluate, compare and select computers and monitors.

EPEAT evaluates equipment using 51 criteria, 23 required criteria and 28 optional, that measure efficiency and sustainability. The criteria, in general, include ENERGY STAR energy efficiency measurements. EPEAT provides recommendations along a sliding scale in which a bronze EPEAT recommendation means the equipment meets all 23 required criteria. Silver EPEAT satisfies the 23 required criteria plus half of the optional criteria. The top rating, gold, indicates that the equipment meets the 23 requirements and 75 percent of the optional criteria.

Cost Cutting
At Judson ISD, the combination of green, energy-efficient physical computers with virtual computers that need much less energy than physical computers slashed energy use by the computers by a whopping 73 percent.

Another way of looking at the savings is the cost to run each computer for a year. “The old PCs that we replaced cost $26 each per year to operate,” says Young. “Green computers running virtual computers cut the average annual per computer cost to about $6.50.”

There’s more: virtual computers don’t give off heat. As a result, the cost of cooling computers with air-conditioning fell by 70 percent.

As if that weren’t enough, Young continued looking for energy-saving angles. “One of the other techniques that we found was automated shut down,” he says. “We automatically shut off all the computers at a certain time every day. Over the past four years, that alone has saved us a total of $50,000 in energy costs.”

Disposing of E-waste
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that Americans disposed of 2 million tons of electronic gear, including computers and monitors, in 2005. Only a fraction of that tonnage was recycled.

Old electronics equipment should be recycled. Trouble is, it contains toxic elements, such as lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury, which endanger human health as well as the environment.

While the EPA does allow electronics equipment disposal in landfills, it recommends recycling. In addition to toxic elements, electronics equipment contains precious metals, copper and plastic that could be recycled, thus saving energy that would have been used in manufacturing new materials.

Young at Judson ISD recently contracted with an electronics recycling to dispose properly of obsolete equipment.

Young advises school district IT directors interested in greening up their departments to set a strategy that focuses on the green basics: energy efficient operations, purchasing EPEAT-certified equipment and qualified recycling.

The reason is that it is easy to focus on saving energy, while ignoring the other two basics. While the financial savings for the district will come from cutting energy use, purchasing practices and recycling provide benefits to the environment almost as great as the savings in fossil fuels achieved with energy efficiency.

After all, looking for EPEAT certifications and qualified electronics recyclers is quick and easy. But the benefits to the environment will be powerful and long lasting.