Why does both users and hardware manufacturers need to pay attention to green computing?
‘Go Green’, has become an important catchphrase in recent times. The main objective behind this is to make people, government, industrial leaders aware of switching to environment-friendly practices. And this also applies to the tech industry too. From training neural networks to powering microprocessor and cooling data center – every application has its own carbon footprint. Though it may not sound alarming yet, but in 2019, researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, had discovered that training BERT (a neural network) once has a whopping carbon footprint of a passenger flying a round trip between New York and San Francisco. So, worried now?!
While the concerns about climate change have grown louder with time, the priority of the technological world should also be on reducing the dependence on resources along with carbon footprint. Today’s computers, supercomputers, and quantum computers not only help in mathematical calculation, simulation of matter, weather monitoring but also help address real-world concerns like mapping the vegetation cover, drug discovery and more. Though the reliance on computers would not fizzle out anytime in the coming years and will grow exponentially, its environmental impact should be a primary topic of discussion now. Data centers alone consume 3% of the global electricity supply and contribute to about 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions. They also share same carbon footprint as the aviation industry.
To counter this problem, scientists have suggested a ‘green’ solution – green computing! In layman’s terms, it refers to optimal usage of available resources without exhausting them. This is achieved by making computer hardware waste (and electronics in general) recyclable and implementing energy efficient technologies.
The origin behind this concept can be traced back to when the green computing program was born in the year 1992, with the Energy Star program in the US. Its goal was for the computer industry to adopt sustainable practices on several fronts, such as manufacturing, design, usage and eventual disposal. The Energy Star laid basic foundation of green computing by promoting energy efficient monitors, temperature control devices and many more. Overall, this program was a success and also made its way to several other nations, like Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and also the EU. One of the most notable contributions of the Energy Star program was “sleep mode” for computers, where the system simply goes into hibernation when it isn’t in use, thereby saving energy.
Apart from that, another way to adopt green computing is to migrate to cloud. When the data storage, networking and other works happen virtually, the companies can save as much as 90% of the energy by switching to cloud computing. However, the problem is neither ‘sleep mode’ nor ‘cloud’ help in reducing carbon footprint totally. ‘Sleep Mode’ still consumes power, whereas clouds also add up to carbon emissions. Fortunately, there are some minor changes that can be made to make cloud more energy efficient. These are workflow scheduling, VM scheduling, virtual machine migration, wireless networking.
Meanwhile, the production of IT hardware generates tremendous amount of greenhouse gases which are released to the atmosphere. So, using fewer toxic materials and optimization of the manufacturing process can result in minimal environmental impact. Designing energy-efficient computers, servers, printers, projectors and other digital devices that produce less heat and don’t require cooling helps too! At the user-end, people can either repurpose existing equipment or appropriately dispose of, or recycle, unwanted electronic equipment. Several government initiatives like US Environmental Protection Agency’s Green IT unit stresses e-cycling and refurbishment of electronic products.
All these decades, the innovations in computers have driven the idea of enhancing performance and battery life. However, sadly, that didn’t translate in creating environment friendly products with minimal carbon footprint. Recently, a team of researchers trying to change that by challenging the field to add carbon footprint to the list of metrics when designing new processes, new computing systems, new hardware, and new ways to use devices. If they are successful, it will surely open a new chapter in green computing.