What Impact Will Climate Change Have on Enterprise IT?

If you are thinking about the future of technology, IT in general, or your organisation’s IT in particular, are you thinking about the implications of global phenomena? When formulating IT strategy (i.e. planning with a 3-5 year time horizon or longer) I believe that this is a necessity. The IT strategies that I have seen usually focus on only two things: (1) the current business strategy; and, (2) technology change. This strikes me as being far too narrow. The global and local trends that are all around us will have a tremendous impact on what we are able to achieve in business and with IT and I think that our strategies will be stronger for taking them into account. One of the largest and most important global phenomena that should affect our strategies (because it will affect everyone on the planet) is climate change.

The most clear impact that climate change will have on enterprise IT is in the increasing cost of greenhouse gas emitting processes, specifically power. My expectation is that the cost of carbon emissions will be making their way onto the enterprise bottom line by way of power prices. Whether this is through a carbon tax, or emissions trading schemes is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the cost of power will increase, and that currently IT is a significant consumer of power within today’s digital organisations. As our reliance on IT within business increases this trend will only grow in importance. This will have several downstream effects on enterprise IT. As the power bill for IT goes up, enterprises will look for ways to cut that bill. There are basically three trends that can be taken advantage of to reduce power consumption in IT, and your IT strategy should be looking to address all three.

Climate change drives energy-efficient IT which is supported by various technologies.

The impact of climate change on ICT

The first is virtualisation. Virtualising your servers can significantly reduce the number of servers that you have operating, and thus significantly reduce your power consumption. As your servers are basically consuming the same amount of power whether they are running at full capacity or basically idle, performing the same amount of computing on less hardware involves a reduction in power consumption.

The second is low-power technology. In the area of end-user devices, low power devices such as tablets and thin clients will become more attractive as they use less power than traditional “fat” desktop PCs. This will in turn drive desktop virtualisation adoption. In the area of back-office or data centre computing there will be a greater demand for servers that consume less power (and we are already seeing some significant moves being made in this area by certain hardware manufacturers). In addition, technologies such as evaporative cooling will be used to reduce the power consumption needed for cooling data centres.

The third is cloud computing. Cloud computing can reduce power consumption costs in three ways: by placing data centres close to sources of cheap power, by aggregating demand and buying power in bulk; by aggregating demand for buying energy-efficient computing (in terms of servers and ancillary services such as cooling). There is a strong financial incentive on cloud computing mega data centres to produce extremely energy-efficient set-ups as power is an even more significant component of their costs. This is driving innovation into the way that they manage energy.

If you are looking at your long-term business and IT strategy how will climate change impact it? Does your IT roadmap take climate change into account? I believe that it is something that far-sighted strategists and enterprise architects should be thinking about now.

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