American data centers doubled their energy usage from 2000 to 2006, and with consumption expected to double again by 2011, some colleges are seeking ways to cut their energy costs. Yet a new survey suggests that "green IT" initiatives on college campuses are being hampered by diminishing budgets.
Less than a quarter of higher-education technology officials who responded to the survey said reducing energy use is "very important" when pitted against other IT missions, according to the "2009 Energy Efficient IT Report," published by IT solutions company CDW-G earlier this month.
Despite the low ranking of IT energy cost-cutting in the report, 54 percent of colleges in the survey said they have trimmed energy bills since last year. In 2008, the CDW-G survey showed that 38 percent of technology departments had cut energy costs.
Slashing energy consumption for energy-intensive campus server racks, for instance, has been a request from college administrators at more than half of responding institutions. And 43 percent of colleges and universities surveyed said their IT department is responsible for its energy consumption, meaning technology decision makers might make green policies a higher priority if energy costs come out of the department’s already-dwindling budget.
Colleges and universities of every size have resorted to cloud computing–using off-campus servers to house IT infrastructure–rather than maintain on-campus servers that have raised technology costs in education, business, and government over the past decade.
CDW-G’s energy efficiency report includes simple tips for how campus administrators can decrease IT costs, such as encouraging campus employees to shut down computers when they are not in use and using liquid crystal display (LCD)-powered computer monitors, which use up to two-thirds less energy than traditional cathode-ray tube computer monitors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. LCD monitors are also less strenuous on users’ eyes, according to market research.
Investing in green IT initiatives has allowed Arizona State University’s journalism school to consolidate servers and save energy and money, said Bill Portin, vice president of sales and operations for Washington-based IT company Parallels.
The cost savings, he said, are seen primarily when IT officials no longer tend to two entirely separate operating systems, such as Macintosh and Windows. Before a desktop virtualization program was implemented at Arizona State University, 40 percent of the journalism school’s computers were PCs.
"Going from two to one [operating system]–that has some pretty simple economic purposes to it," Portin said.
Conserving massive amounts of energy used to cool servers that run all day and need constant air conditioning to keep from overheating also fit Arizona State’s efforts to institute more environmentally friendly policies in recent years, officials said.
"There’s a push here to become a much greener campus," said Sasan Poureetezadi, the school’s director of computer services.
Making IT officials aware of computer energy costs has helped some colleges steadily cut technology spending in recent years. Loyola University in Chicago has moved about half of its 303 servers to off-campus virtualization since 2007, and the school plans on virtualizing 65 percent of its servers by 2010, according to the CDW-G energy report.
Dan Vonder Heide, Loyola’s director of infrastructure services, said the IT department’s first attempt at reducing energy costs was too wide ranging. But focusing on server virtualization, he said, will continue to slash IT costs as university budgets continue to fall. Loyola’s efforts include installation of meters that measure power consumption in the university’s data center.
"We initially took a shotgun approach to energy efficiency, looking at a wide variety of technologies that could … reduce our power consumption," Vonder Heide said. "We were all over the map."
About 13 percent of college IT budgets goes toward energy costs, according to the CDW-G report. Since the average annual IT budget among colleges in the survey was $17.3 million, energy policies that reduce budgets by 1 percent will lead to $22,000 in savings. A 16-percent reduction in energy consumption would save the average campus more than $350,000, the report said.