Green IT


By “Green IT”, I mean information technology that minimizes the cost to the environment (resources, waste, energy consumption, noise, heat) while doing what we need done. The Wintel treadmill has tended to do violence to all of those considerations. For example, the idea that PCs should be replaced every three years has nothing to do with maintaining the performance of general purpose computers and everything to do with making more revenue for Wintel (Parts makers, OEMs, retailers, Intel and M$).

Rather than wringing our hands at the wasteful excesses of Wintel, we should consider good ways to respect the environment in IT. A side-effect is that green IT is lower cost. There is no downside to green IT in every case. Resources, energy, and waste disposal all cost time and money. If we forget about what is good for Wintel and consider only what is good for IT, we get better performance for lower cost.

What we do in IT involves creating, storing, finding, modifying and presenting information.

In the creative process, anything that is included in the system solely to prop up Wintel is counter-productive. For example WGdisA does nothing for the end-user and his/her need to compute. The same goes for malware scanners. They are like driving with the brakes applied, yet anti-malware is an inherent part of Wintel and a $multi-billion industry. Certainly re-re-reboots do nothing for the end-user and his/her IT effort, yet Wintel has them built-in. IT without all this irrelevant stuff wasting resources is more productive and costs less. GNU/Linux as found in a distribution like Debian GNU/Linux has none of these inefficiencies unless you choose to implement them for your own purposes.

In storage, Wintel supplies file-systems and security-tools that are not optimal in many situations. For example, the place where I worked last year was still using FAT when I arrived, so indexed search was unavailable. Time and energy wasted seeking was appalling. Converting to NTFS was little better on those slow old PCs with little RAM. On the other hand, switching to GNU/Linux with a choice of excellent file systems and indexing/search tools provided snappy storage. There is also Google Desktop. Then there is the crapware and fragmentation of Wintel storage systems. Then there is the registry which stores configurations. How many times does it get corrupted???

Modifying information should be the most green of operations. Just do it! That’s not the way with Wintel. Selling licences is the goal here. Compare the price of Office ($500) with OpenOffice.org ($0). With GNU/Linux there are multiple word-processors and office suites included with the installation. I have OpenOffice.org, LyX, AbiWord, KWord, etc. That other OS comes with nothing as powerful and it is a seperate installation and maintenance item.

When it comes to presenting information the choices are rich in FLOSS while that other OS usually wants a licensing fee for every applications and separate installation and maintenance for each application, a huge waste of time, money and manpower. GNU/Linux comes with an office suite that can do the job but there are PDF tools, web applications and servers, databases, etc. all useful tools for organizing and presenting data. A wordpress blog, for instance, can be installed on Debian GNU/Linux in seconds. Look what a single command or click can install:
Package: wordpress
Priority: optional
Section: web
Installed-Size: 9608
Maintainer: Giuseppe Iuculano
Architecture: all
Version: 3.0.5+dfsg-0+squeeze1
Depends: apache2 | httpd, mysql-client, libapache2-mod-php5 | php5, php5-mysql, libphp-phpmailer (>= 1.73-4), php5-gd, libjs-prototype, libjs-scriptaculous, tinymce (>= 3.2.6-0.1), libphp-snoopy, libjs-jquery (>= 1.3.3-1), php-gettext, libjs-cropper
Recommends: wordpress-l10n
Suggests: mysql-server (>> 4.0.20-8)
Filename: pool/updates/main/w/wordpress/wordpress_3.0.5+dfsg-0+squeeze1_all.deb
Size: 2513774
MD5sum: ef47608d7a25e8ed537bc0a4342e4314
SHA1: d2afca950fc485da0f2a61a8b6dd0ce222c780c5
SHA256: d238dbe0618e8fa3b3c4097de32cb2b41d35bcd5e92cc2092720886b0c187a2e
Description: weblog manager
WordPress is a full featured web blogging tool:
* Instant publishing (no rebuilding)
* Comment pingback support with spam protection
* Non-crufty URLs
* Themable
* Plugin support
Homepage: http://wordpress.org

How cool is that?

When we get to hardware or hardware-limited tasks, avoiding Wintel has advantages. In small cheap portable computers, ARM is very competitive. For much less battery drain, you get similar computing power. That requires less battery or gives more endurance, your choice. The ARM processor itself uses less silicon, energy and manpower to produce because the chips are smaller. The processor costs about half what an Intel processor of similar power costs. If you need more computing power, there are multi-core versions with incorporated graphics. This system on a chip architecture permits smaller cases, motherboards, and power supplies all reducing maintenance, capital costs, shipping costs, energy costs, and raw material inputs. ARM is just the greenest thing. The energy use is so small fans are not needed reducing costs further. Intel Atom by comparison uses two to four times as much power on the same tasks. ARM is not yet available with the same throughput and speed of Intel chips but for 80% of users who can use a thin client or mobile device to get the job done, that is no disadvantage and indeed a savings.

One does not need to be “environmentally aware” to use Green IT. It just makes sense to examine all the options and pick the best price/performance ratio. That will often be GNU/Linux and ARM and thin client and not Wintel. Maximizing the profits of two corporations and their partners is not in the best interests of end-users in most ways.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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6 Responses to Green IT

  1. I use the GUI where it works for me and the command line where it works for me. I can grep an apt-cache search any way I need to find stuff. The GUI just gets in the way of that and it’s a waste of time to go back and forth.

  2. oe says:

    Agreed 100% with all the useful info on that WordPress dump example and I too like raw, scriptable apt-get (and sometime dpkg), but for the potential new adopter showing a GUI Software Center screenshot might be more convincing….

  3. Of course, a large enough heat sink and a large enough surface area will do the job but that might not fit in most ATX cases. I know some notebooks are dangerous to sit on one’s lap.

  4. Intel is cranking out chips up to 130W TDP. They need fans or pumps.

    see Intel i7-990X

    That’s a chip intended for home use in a desktop. I have a CPU from AMD that I consider obscene at 95W.

  5. Ray says:

    You don’t really need any fans on pretty much anything these days, just a giant heatsink 🙂

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