Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK has one of the few Green Computing degree programs in the world. We asked the program’s founder, Colin Pattinson, to tell us about the future of sustainable IT as both a field of study and an industry mindset.
How did you become interested in green computing?
My PhD work was in measuring the performance of network protocols. It’s a small step from measuring and controlling data transfer rates and system behavior in a network to measuring and controlling energy use.
Many of the first initiatives in energy saving often landed on the network and system managers’ desk: things like virtualization of servers and desktop power management are network and system changes. As IT uses 10-20% of a typical organization’s electricity, changes in IT can make a difference. We are currently exploring what data center changes have the greatest effect.
More recently, there’s been a shift from saving energy in IT to saving energy by IT: using technology to manage and control other aspects of operations. This is best seen in areas like smart meters; smart transport systems; smart homes, etc. We are currently running a project in the university to connect the room timetabling system with the heating and lighting controls to make heat and light follow room use more closely.
Where did the idea for this program come from?
We recognized that demand for people with the skills and knowledge needed to take on the “green IT” role will grow. In large organizations there may well be a full job role; in smaller companies, the role might be combined with that of the network/system manager. We also expect there to be a growing consultancy demand. The program is aimed at people who have been in the industry for a few years, often in technical management roles who wish to develop their skills.
How is sustainability viewed within the IT industry in general?
It’s very mixed. To some it’s a central part of what they do and who they are; others see it as a marketing opportunity; others as a cost saving, yet others as an expense or a collection of red tape to be adhered to (or avoided).
What achievements has the IT industry made in sustainability? Where is there still much work to be done?
Most of the so-called quick wins are fairly well known by now: server virtualization, lower energy PCs and monitors, and power management at the desktop have made a difference in traditional workstation server environments; and alternative approaches to service provision like cloud and thin client are promoted for a combination of power and operational efficiency.
These achievements have all been based around changing the way the technology operates: the challenge now is to make changes to the behavior of the users: print management leading to reduced paper use; automation of environmental controls and reductions in travel are all likely to affect people’s life and work. This is very important, but much more difficult to achieve without creating user resistance and rejection.
What recommendations would you give to those trying to start similar programs in their own university?
Make sure that potential students and employers are aware of the program; involve students from other programs in related areas of study in project work; ensure there is a strong connection between what is taught and what is researched; try to get others in the university involved (e.g. computer services, estates department); realize that the program is likely to be a niche area rather than a major part of the provision.
What’s one of the easiest actions that organizations can take to reduce the footprint of their IT department?
Beyond the technology-based quick wins listed above, the best thing is to get staff engagement with the cause and its purpose. Making it clear that there are real money savings from more efficient use of resources is likely to be more widely supported if employees can see the benefits – some organizations do this by direct reward, others through awareness-raising.
For more information on Leeds Metropolitan Green Computing program, click here. See also this video debate: Green Skills for the Green Economy.
Also check out EarthShare's article on Greening the IT Industry.
Photo by Creativity103
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