Greening IT Through Virtualization

Technology continues to evolve, providing people with new functionality, features, information, and entertainment.  According to Ray Kurzweil, a number of metrics for computer performance and capacity indicate that our technology is expanding at a linear or exponential rate.  Sadly, the physical manifestations of technology are also helping to destroy the planet and poison our clean water supplies.  According to the EPA, nearly 2% of municipal waste is computer trash.  While an improvement in recent years, only 18% of computers, televisions, and related solid waste is actually recycled by consumers, placing millions of tons of unwanted electronics into landfills each year.  Businesses contribute to this problem each year as they are major consumers of computers, printers, cell phones, and other electronics to operate their business.

Computers that are placed into a landfill pose a significant environmental threat to people and wildlife.  Electronics can contain a number of hazardous materials, such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and some types of flame retardants, which, in the quantities of disposed equipment, poses a real threat to our drinking water.  See the article here with the details. Lead alone in sufficient quantities can damage your central nervous system and kidneys, and heavy metals in your body will be retained such that over time you accumulate more of the substance until your body reaches a threshold over which you may experience fatal symptoms.  See Lead Poisoning Article. Mercury, cadmium and chromium aren’t any nicer to people or animals.

Everyone should recycle their electronics through a respectable electronics recycler (See Turtle Wings website for example).  However, you can also reduce your server fleet and extend the life of your computer equipment through virtualization.  (See an earlier post on virtualization on my blog).  Virtualization of your server equipment means that you will use fewer physical servers in order to present more virtual machines to your user community for accessing print, authentication, file sharing, applications, web, and other computer services on your network.  Fewer servers in use means that you will have fewer physical server devices to purchase over time and fewer servers to recycle at the end of their life.  Virtualizing your desktops can help by extending the useful life of your desktops (they are just accessing a centrally stored virtual desktop, on which all the processing and storage occurs, so a desktop with little RAM and CPU will work for longer), and also reducing the amount of electricity that your organization uses per computer (if you then switch to a thin client such as a Wyse terminal or HP computing device).

Virtualization can also improve your preparedness for disasters, whether by flood, virus, or terrorist.  For one thing, backing up the data file that represents your virtual servers is easier, can be done during normal business hours, and can be far more easily replicated to another site than the contents of a physical server.  Furthermore, virtualization can reduce the entry costs to implement a disaster recovery site because you can use less overall equipment in order to replicate data from your production environment, so your ongoing operating costs are reduced as compared to a physical server configuration.  Testing upgrades is easier because you can duplicate a production virtual server and test the upgrade before rolling it out to the live system (which costs less than buying another physical server and running a copy of the system on it to run the testing).  Virtualizing desktops also simplifies some of the support and administrative tasks associated with keeping desktops running properly (or fixing them when they stop working right).

So, before you buy another physical desktop or server, think about whether virtualization can help save Earth and you.

Published by


Maryland technology attorney and college professor.

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