Green Business

Frank McCosker (Africa) - New Innovations in IT Support: Environmental Sustainability in Africa


From the green IT perspective, I believe Africa is a very interesting continent, and one to watch for the future. Despite many development challenges ahead, there are many positive signs that Africa is well poised to take advantage of a host of opportunities to build a ‘green economy,' simultaneously generating growth and 21st century jobs in an environmentally sustainable way.

Africa is rich in the kinds of natural resources that in many parts of the world have been exploited and diminished by centuries of unsustainable development. This includes not just precious and semi-precious metals, but also nature-based resources such as forests (biodiversity) and natural fuels (wind, solar and geothermal).

The fundamental question, as asked by Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is: how will all this potential be harvested for the benefit of Africa's citizen? And in a way that promotes stability in Africa and beyond?

At Microsoft, we ask how IT can be a part of the solution. We see IT as an important tool that can help address the daunting energy and environmental challenges facing the world today, but also one that has the power to facilitate development globally. We envision a clean energy ecosystem in which IT tools and software empower people and organizations; to increase energy efficiency and accelerate innovation; and the deployment of clean energy sources.

As a recent climate report by the World Wildlife Fund noted, "There is probably no other sector where the opportunity to provide solutions with dramatic emission reduction potential is as significant" (in regards to the IT sector).

In March this year I was in Nairobi, Kenya for the United Nations Chief Executive Briefing, where Mr. Steiner, launched the UN's new energy neutral Nairobi headquarters building. The building is the first of its kind for the UN and is a global showcase of sustainable design and technology.

Our work with UNEP stems from a public-private partnership that began in 2009, and our contribution to the UN office in Nairobi, which houses UNEP's headquarters, began with the design of the building. Extensive consultation and background studies identified information technology and lighting as the highest energy using components and therefore the greatest roadblocks to achieving energy neutrality.

Traditional data centers require expensive air conditioning components that require massive amounts of energy to operate. These components account for up to 90% of IT energy consumption. To overcome this, we worked closely with UNEP to see how green technology, specifically the IT pre-assembled components (ITPAC) data center, could help UNEP support an IT infrastructure that achieves its energy neutrality goals for the building.

This piece of cutting-edge technology illustrates how it is possible to create sustainable 21st century work environments, and is at the center of Microsoft's green IT strategy. And implementing green IT policies like the highly efficient ITPAC data center is not only ensuring the building's energy neutrality, but also demonstrating the crucial role that technology can play in environmental sustainability.

The ITPAC technology uses fans to create negative pressure, drawing outside air through the container to cool equipment. As a result, the technology dramatically reduces typical data center carbon footprint and the consumption of materials, along with the additional carbon footprint associated with the packaging and transporting of servers, equipment and supplies.

We have estimated that with ITPAC data centers, the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio, a measure of data center energy efficiency, is often cut in half. In addition, the ITPAC's technology also allows the building to leverage increased IT flexibility and scalability of advanced technologies like cloud computing - unlocking even greater efficiencies and allowing the UN staff in Nairobi to do more with less.

In addition to our technology, the new UN building in Nairobi has some other really interesting and innovative features, such as energy saving lighting, energy efficient laptops, natural ventilation systems and 6,000 square meters of solar panels designed to generate as much electricity as its 1,200 occupants consume- all of which are needed to achieve carbon neutrality .

A working building and a research facility, it also serves as a sustainable showcase aiming to motivate others around the world to become part of the transition to a green economy. Whilst the ITPAC is an extraordinary example of how IT can support sustainability it is important that we are thinking about how we as an industry can help create a cleaner future while supporting developing economies. By looking at innovative ways Find out about the issues, and what you can do to make a difference.

by Frank McCosker,  Managing Director, at Microsoft Global Strategic Accounts




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