Data centers are energy hogs. In his blog, “The New Daedalus” (, infrastructure analyst Toby Considine suggests that “sustainable” and “IT” might not belong in the same sentence.

The CIO Web site reported that data centers use an estimated 1.5 percent to 3 percent of the total electricity generated in the United States. It takes power to keep them running and it takes a lot of power to keep them cool.

In the same report, Jonathan Koomey, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, estimated that the “data centers that used to cost $10 million now cost $100 million.”

Numbers like these drive home the idea of creating sustainable IT. Computers and their related equipment must be manufactured in ways that tread lightly on the environment, such as using recycled water in chip plants. Sustainable IT management also entails following environmentally friendly practices, including purchasing energy-efficient computers and peripherals and monitoring their power usage. And when these products break or become obsolete, they must be properly disposed of in hazardous-waste landfills. This helps to keep environmentally harmful substances from leaching into groundwater.

Now, consider the “rogue data center,” which Considine refers to as an “energy hog.” Many of these centers are found in supply closets and create huge cooling problems primarily because their location was an afterthought.

When the system cooling shuts down for the night (a common practice meant to save on energy dollars, because there are no humans to keep cool), the data center overheats, unless there has been an expensive retrofit. Heat is not a friend to computer equipment. To keep the data center cool, the entire mechanical cooling system must operate continuously, upping cooling costs and creating an extremely nongreen situation.

Solving the problem of creating sustainable IT will not be cheap, but there is an expected payback. Eventually, it will become cheaper to build energy-efficient equipment, systems and buildings. And federal law now requires the Environmental Protection Agency to study the issue and provide incentives to encourage the development of sustainable IT.