COMMENTARY

Take responsibility for the power envelope every day

Institutional energy conservation is going mainstream in the federal government, particularly in terms of IT. Government’s green IT emphasis grows daily with the push to consolidate data centers, the move to virtualization or wholesale shifting to cloud computing, and proposed acquisition policies that place an emphasis on purchasing energy-efficient IT products.

These sound approaches to energy conservation reduce the size of government’s "power envelope" and provide twin benefits of increased operational efficiency and a range of significant cost savings, including lower utility bills.

All of this is good, but it lacks one major element: accountability. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, the federal government needs clear metrics for tracking and evaluating its green IT efforts. IT managers in individual offices and agencies don't actually pay the electric bill, so they don't see the direct, bottom-line savings those efforts generate on a month-to-month basis through responsible energy habits.

Nor do they see the impact that their end users, federal employees, have on that electric bill when they leave their desktop computers and printers turned on all the time, or plug in their personal laptops, cell phones and tablets to recharge them at work.

Here are three very different, but equally powerful, approaches that can work together to make a huge impact on energy accountability and the government’s spiraling energy costs.

Consider the government CIO’s role

Fundamentally, the government CIO position exists to provide essential, IT-related services that support the agency’s mission. While the CIO clearly must address limitations of budget and other resources, cost accountability around energy – a logical operational cost – does not factor into the equation. Although we may be a long way from including energy as a budget line item on the CIO’s desk, there does need to be better visibility of energy expenditures within the agency’s chain of command.

Understanding energy consumption is the first step to reducing the power envelope. Just as energy costs helped drive Vivek Kundra’s data center consolidation mandates, they also should help drive each agency’s efforts to get expenses under control. Accountability, at the CIO level or elsewhere in agency leadership, will be a big step in the right direction.

Let industry innovation lead the way

While green IT has become the norm, instead of the romantic ideal it was portrayed as just a few years ago, the need to innovate around energy consumption is stronger than ever. One example of industry innovation leading the way for green IT in government is Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), a ratio calculation that measures data center energy efficiency.

Government agencies, including the Energy Department, use PUE to track improvement in the energy needs of the data center. An average PUE ratio is 3:1, which means that for every three watts used to power, cool and run IT equipment, only one watt actually goes to the IT equipment. The ideal PUE ratio is 1:1 – a great goal for both industry and government data centers.

In terms of helping government understand, manage and ultimately improve how it uses energy and powers IT functions, industry needs to develop creative approaches to the business of powering government.

Industry can bring its considerable expertise to bear on the issue of providing government with the tools to enable responsible energy management – the key to building in accountability, and getting a handle on energy costs at all levels of the public sector.

Power down – every day

With virtualization technologies available to all agencies, the need to leave power-hungry computers on overnight and during weekends to accommodate the occasional software patch or upgrade is an antiquated habit. If we follow the data center all the way to the endpoint – the individual – we find an untapped opportunity for dramatic energy savings.

In fact, last year’s GreenGov Challenge final report recommends “powering down all desktop computers, locally connected printers and other non-networked peripherals at the end of the day” to help reduce government’s energy consumption.

That’s the premise behind Power IT Down Day, a virtual event on August 26 sponsored by GTSI Corp., Citrix, Hewlett-Packard and Intel that encourages individuals in government and industry to turn off their computers, monitors, printers and other IT equipment at the end of the workday.

If just 50 percent of federal employees followed through on the easy task of turning off those devices on a Friday, the savings would add up to more than $385,000 in just one weekend. That equals to more than $20 million per year in energy cost savings. Imagine the savings if government workers practiced this simple habit every day for a full year! To look at this another way, the U.S. Forest Service recently tweeted that it had saved 2.8 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions during the 2010 Power IT Down Day weekend.

We have more control than we think over the size of government’s power envelope. From a CIO's desk to the desk of the average government worker, it’s all about harnessing our own power to be accountable and make a difference in energy consumption and costs.

And that should give us all something to think about when we leave the office today… and every day from now on.

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