Vista, energy and ecological impact of computers

UK Green Party is not happy about Vista.  According to this article from Treehugger, they criticize the hardware upgrade cycle (required to get full benefits) will lead to millions of perfectly usable PCs being discarded in land-fills, complete with their toxic internals.This follows a recent trend of heightened awareness of the impact of IT, an industry that one does not generally think of polluting. After all we are not leaching gold in cyanide pits, anxious to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or trying to convince consumers they need a 8000lb SUV to remain safe on the road.

But this is not the first time the issue of greenness has been raised. Andrew Shapiro, a law professor at Harvard’s Berkman Center made this point, of all places at an invited talk at Microsoft campus. Pointing out that Linux can run on less powerful hardware than Windows (and therefore achieve better utilization of existing computing resources) he posed the question of whether that makes it a greener operating system.

There is another, recently emerging area where IT has clear impact on the environment: energy consumption in data-centers. With the rise of large scale web-based services, companies have taken to setting up data centers packed with thousands of servers. A server looks nothing like the PC sitting on the typical end-users desk; in order to save space, they are typicall in very compact “rack-mounted” form factor. (Example from Dell website.) This means not only is each server hungry for power, the close proximity places significant demands on the HVAC system to prevent the whole assembly from going up in smoke. Roughly 50% of electricity in the US generated from coal, so the data-center is one example of how straightforward it can be to translate the scale (and efficiency) of a service to its carbon emissions.


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