Green ICT

Hopefully you will have read the recent edition of RGU’s “Green Times” – if not you can read it here.

It includes an article which shows the environmental impact of PC’s being left switched on and what you can do to help – by turning your PC off when it is not in use. What is less obvious to our staff and students is the impact of “behind the scenes” ICT. Way back in 2007, the Gartner Group estimated that globally information and communications technology contributes to some 2% of total carbon emissions.

That’s about the same as the aviation industry. A quarter of the ICT related emissions come from data centres running servers, which then require further energy to keep them cool. . .

We have many servers running in our server rooms on Campus, and the rooms themselves are nothing like as efficient as modern datacentre standards. We expend much more energy on cooling than we need to. Aberdeen University is in a similar situation, so are Aberdeen College and Banff and Buchan College (although they have recently upgraded their server room), and at the moment we all run our data centres independently from each other. Over the past 3 years we have been working hard to see how we could collaborate to reduce all our costs and carbon emissions.

This culminated in an agreement earlier this year to move into a shared datacentre by upgrading space in the University of Aberdeen. It’s currently under construction, and will be ready by the Spring of 2013. Initially, it will become the primary datacentre for Aberdeen University, Robert Gordon University and Aberdeen College, with Banff and Buchan using the facility at a later date.

The environmental impact of this will be substantial. We estimate that the total power consumption of all the servers from the 3 institutions is 220kWh. In our own separate, old, data centres at the moment we probably use the same amount of power again just to keep the servers cool (220 kWh is roughly 22 electric cookers, with everything switched on, running all the time – just picture it). CO2 emissions from all that will come to 2030 metric tonnes per annum.

By packing all these servers into one modern datacentre we will slash the energy required for cooling. We estimate that our total power consumption will drop from 441kWh to about 264kWh. As an added bonus, much of the electricity will be generated by Aberdeen University’s combined heat and power plant with lower associated carbon emissions. In total, we anticipate saving 1061 tonnes per annum.

And into the bargain, the institutions will save £2.6m collectively over the next 10 years.

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IT Strategy – our Infrastructure

Behind the scenes, we run a sizeable infrastructure to deliver the services available to our 12,000 registered users (staff and students, including distance learners). There is a Campus wide network (wired and wireless) connecting around 3,000 workstations, hundreds of phones, printers and an untold number of personal devices. This links to the core University services and also, of course, to the Internet via the national JANET academic network that connects all Universities and Colleges. We have two main server rooms on Campus that house all our servers and storage – we manage over 300 servers and over 40 Terabytes of storage. All this runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This whole environment has to be constantly monitored, backed up and upgraded – old servers replaced, software updated, capacity expanded and new services brought on stream. It’s a bit like changing the engines on a Jumbo Jet one at a time without landing . . .

Most of this is unseen by our users, but it has to be a key part of our strategy to keep our infrastructure up to date, and to plan in advance what capacity we will need over the next few years. Particularly when many of our users use external services (e.g. Apple Cloud, Google, Facebook, YouTube) and these can change quickly – increasing the traffic on our network.

We’re also looking at ways to reduce costs and lower our environmental footprint. We have recently signed up with other regional institutions to create a shared regional datacentre, and we will move half of our servers and storage into this in a year’s time. The new datacentre will be state of the art and highly efficient in its use of power. Our equipment consumes over 100kW of electrical power and it takes more energy on top of this to cool it which is why it is so important to have an efficient datacentre.

We also have to plan for unforeseen events – what happens if we lose a server room through fire, power loss or other incident? What happens if one of our major network links is cut? We run dual systems on our critical services to ensure that they can continue even if we lose one of the server rooms and we have dual links and equipment on the core of our network. It is important to test our disaster recovery measures, and this year we are going to start running regular rehearsals which will include shutting down one of our server rooms to prove that the critical services continue to run as expected.