IT intelligence: old PCs

Robin Fisk suggests some uses for old PCs in the first of a new series on green IT.

Everyone, apart from Top Gear presenter and anti-environmentalist Jeremy Clarkson, now seems to understand that the globe is getting hotter, so it's time to look at how we can reduce the amount of environmental damage IT does.

IT consumes serious amounts of electricity. Some estimates say power usage by data centres in the US makes up between 1 and 2 per cent of the country's power consumption.

First, let's apply some common sense. Numbers vary depending on the source, but server utilisation is typically 15 per cent, meaning that 85 per cent of the time it is not being used, but it's still consuming power. One answer is virtualisation (which I will cover in a future column), but another, assuming that the periods of non-use are predictable, is the off switch. Likewise for desktop PCs, laptop power supplies, monitors and printers, which are often left on standby when not being used overnight or on holiday.

What happens to your old PC when you upgrade? PCs are often retired once they are out of warranty, or maybe their value has been written down as zero on the books. Retiring a PC means disposal, but unless you recycle it through a technology recycling charity, or recycle the materials through a recycling centre, you risk creating further pollution.

But that PC was state-of-the-art when you got it three years ago. Couldn't it still provide sterling service for years to come? Possibly. Just wipe the hard drive, install Linux and retain the PC on your network - perhaps as a back-up machine, a dedicated firewall or even an occasional word-processing PC with one of the open-source Office packages. You'll be amazed at the new lease of life and performance your PC provides, and by the warm glow that comes from playing your part in caring for the planet.

- Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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