Green Computing at UNH
By Martin England, Computing and Information Services
April 1, 2009
At UNH, green is more than a buzzword these days, it is key to survival. Efficiency has become everyone’s business, including Computing and Information Services’ (CIS) staff. In spring 2008, President Mark Huddleston called for a 5 percent annual reduction in energy costs for the university.
In response, CIO Tom Franke charged CIS Telecom and Client Services Interim Director Nancye Jenkins with coming up with creative and practical ways to reduce energy costs in collaboration with the University-wide efforts. Signals recently sat down with Jenkins to discuss CIS’ efforts in this area.
Signals: What is the difference between Green IT and sustainability?
NJ: Sustainability is much more comprehensive. Sustainability refers to systemic change, actions to make human systems last longer and have less impact on ecological systems. Areas of sustainability include food, recycling, climate change, energy, transportation, and more. The Office of Sustainability has a terrific website on the work that UNH has accomplished as well as ongoing efforts. Did you know UNH is one of 15 schools to receive an A- in the College Sustainability Report Card 2009?
Green initiatives are generally focused on efficient use of resources. Our efforts in IT are primarily focused on energy conservation, so we tend to refer to this as Green IT.
Signals: What is your role in this initiative?
NJ: My role is to help educate our department on sustainable energy practices in computing technology, influence decisions, and publish CIS initiatives. I’ve also joined the UNH Energy Task Force and find the staff there very knowledgeable and helpful.
Signals: What measures is CIS taking to align itself with President Huddleston’s charge? Current? Future?
NJ: Dr. Huddleston has charged the campus with reducing our energy costs by 5 percent annually, and additional targets to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions will be formalized in the UNH Climate Action Plan. CIS has been and continues to be proactive.
One of the largest energy consumers in IT is the data center, where we locate the vast majority of our servers. CIS has two data centers. Last Spring, a new heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system was installed at one of the data centers. Hot aisle/cold aisle containment was implemented to improve efficiency.
Another benefit occurs during winter, when excess server heat is used to warm chilled air to help heat the office space. The other data center has also been economized, with a constant eye toward reducing power consumption. We recently had a data center specific power meter installed to help us track the data center energy usage independent from the entire building. We are looking at increasing the room temperature a few degrees, which would result in a measurable reduction of our consumption and carbon footprint. CIS has also been very proactive the last four to five years in implementing server virtualization, where storage, CPU’s, and networking are pooled.
Desktop power management has been a real focal point for Energy Office—they estimate UNH could save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually if this is implemented. Matt O’Keefe, Campus Energy manager, and I have been working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since last fall.
We ran a 6-week pilot with the EPA in November-December, to measure local desktop consumption under three 2-week scenarios. The EPA will be returning to the campus in the next few weeks to discuss the results and iron out a few discrepancies noted with the power meters. If we are successful in implementing this across campus, it will certainly help meet our charge.
Signals: What are some ways the UNH community can help with these efforts?
NJ: Popular ways for individuals to contribute include turning off power strips, using recycled paper, setting printer defaults to be double-sided, purchasing multi-function devices (for example, all-in-one copier/fax/scanner/printer devices), and purchasing Energy Star® devices. There are many non-IT specific strategies as well, such as carpooling, telecommuting, or swapping out light bulbs. The web has many CO2 calculators to help assess carbon footprints and recommend areas to make a difference.
Signals: I have an old computer. Is it better to buy something more energy efficient, or run it until it expires in hopes to save on replacement costs?
NJ: There is currently quite a bit of conversation on this very topic. The decision really does come down to individual circumstances. One camp supports longer lifecycles for hardware, upgrading components when possible, for financial savings and reducing waste stream impact; another camp supports shorter lifecycles to reduce carbon footprint by taking advantage of reduced energy consumption in newer products. Computing performance needs, funding, sustainability goals are all factors.
Signals: What are some ways CIS has reached out to the UNH community to help the University save energy?
NJ: A good example of working with the community is the work that the CIS data center staff is doing with a small group of mechanical engineering students who approached us last summer. For their senior project, they wanted to create a computational fluid dynamics model to analyze the CIS data center for potential improvements and energy savings. This project has been beneficial for both the students and CIS.
The Computer Store is another example where CIS has responded to green interests in the UNH Community. The Store has been selling Energy Star® and Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool® (EPEAT) qualified computers for quite some time, working closely with both Dell and Apple to bring these products in at competitive pricing. We have also setup a “Green Corner” to display the wide variety of green products that are becoming available. We are also now looking at changing our point-of- sale software to print smaller invoices/receipts based upon a customer’s comment.
A third example is videoconferencing; this is a strategy that is becoming more popular with the advances that have been made in this technology. The UNH Systems Technology Committee (TechTel) presented a proposal to the Information Technology Policy Advisory Committee (ITPAC) back in October for developing a USNH-wide videoconferencing solution, but it was tabled due to our budget challenges. We collaborated with USNH, PSU, KSC, and GSC to demo videoconferencing among all campuses at a USNH Financial Affairs Committee meeting. After a successful demonstration of this technology, Finance and Administration Council (FAC) has committed to providing videoconferencing services to all campus presidents for their quarterly meetings, and we are hoping the TechTel proposal will receive a second look.
Signals: What are some of the challenges you face with this initiative?
NJ: Putting sustainability strategies into practice can be difficult, not just in IT, but for the university as a whole. Entrenched business practices, an RCM model that may not directly benefit the department that bears the cost to implement the strategy, actually having the authority to take action, and competing priorities can all be challenges. If IT can play a role, we would welcome an opportunity to brainstorm.
Visit cis.unh.edu/greencomputing for more information, including ways you can help reduce energy costs.