In the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, scientists indicated that the window for reversing climate change is closing fast, with global warming “likely” to exceed the 1.5-degree threshold set in the Paris climate agreement by 2030. In order to stay beneath 1.5 degrees, greenhouse gas emissions would need to fall by 50% by 2030 and “negative emissions” would also need to be implemented. At SHARE Atlanta, a popular theme among the sessions was mainframes, their environmental impacts, and sustainability.
Paris-based think tank The Shift Project found in its 2019 Lean ICT: Towards digital sobriety report that digital technologies, including device and equipment usage and manufacture and the energy used to operate devices and equipment, execute data transfer, and run servers and data centers, were responsible for 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The International Energy Agency estimates that the rate at which large data centers consume global electricity increases by 10% to 30% annually, due to continually rising workloads. TechTarget reported that information and communication technology’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen 9% per year.
Steps Toward IT Sustainability
Mainframes have solved many problems throughout their history. Today, dealing with climate change and responsible resource usage turns out to be one more way that mainframe shops are at the forefront of effective business practices.
As part of every corporate sustainability program, companies need to assess the energy consumption of their software and hardware to gauge their own corporate carbon footprint (CCF). In order to understand their carbon footprint, companies also need to understand the nomenclature of greenhouse gas emission tiers, known as scope. Scope 1 is all direct emissions from company vehicles, processes, leaks, and manufacturing, while Scope 2 includes indirect emissions such as purchasing energy to power offices and devices. Scope 3 accounts for indirect emissions from company operations throughout the entire supply chain, including the purchase of raw materials and customer usage of a company’s products.
Sustainability Assessment and Optimization Steps:
- Assess current energy consumption of enterprise technology
- Categorize greenhouse gas emission by scope
- Optimize data storage and cloud use
- Upgrade technology only when no longer supported with upgrades to reduce e-waste
- Seek out greener technologies and energy sources
Put Power Consumption to the Test
Data centers alone consume 1% to 1.5% of electricity globally, which is more than entire countries such as Nigeria or Colombia, according to Keziah Knopp a Db2 for z/OS specialist from IBM, who spoke at SHARE Atlanta on “How Do Mainframes Impact the Environment.” Expenditures on power consumption and cooling by enterprise IT have steadily increased from 20% in 1998 to 66% in 2017. A recent study found that data centers consume 10 times the power of the average American home at 1,000 kWh per square meter.
At SHARE Atlanta in the session “Save the Planet and Money with the Mainframe,” Broadcom’s Libor Cerny, product owner, and Antonio Couto, senior technical consultant, advised companies to review their use cases when looking to invest in either cloud or the mainframe to meet their business needs. For instance, cloud works well for general purpose operations, but requires companies to focus their sustainability efforts on energy sourcing to reduce emissions. Cloud platforms, according to Cerny and Couto, produce heat like a desktop computer would, which requires additional energy to cool it.
With mainframe, they indicated that the platform is highly optimized, designed for virtualization, and the efficient use of code, using less energy than cloud. “Mainframes today are smaller than those of 60 years ago, with a 19-inch rack now able to take advantage of energy efficient strategy used by server racks, known as the heating/cooling aisle,” they said.
In their business use case, a financial firm with a mainframe seeks to move its transaction scoring application that uses COBOL, CICS, and Db2 off the mainframe and house it on Intel Xeon-based servers, using Apache Hadoop and Java. Couto and Cerny analyzed both systems’ power consumption. To ensure fairness, they chose servers that were the most energy efficient for their study.
The analysis found that the IBM z16 mainframe ultimately consumed less power while powering not only one application’s transactions, but other application activities at the same time, compared to the Intel Xeon-based servers. The z16 generated 35 tons of CO2 annually compared to 447 tons of CO2 generated by the Intel servers, which accounted for the energy used to power the server, but not to cool it. “Some applications can work well in the cloud,” Couto and Cerny said, “but when you account for power usage and staff support, the mainframe consumes less power and leads to fewer emissions over the long term.” Additionally, with many young workers looking for companies with good environmental, social, and governance (ESG) track records, making it known that their IT platforms are energy efficient can go a long way in attracting top talent.
In CDW.ca, IDC estimated that organizations spend an additional 66 cents on power and cooling for every dollar they spend on new hardware, which is why firms need a power and cooling strategy. Capturing data on those expenditures throughout the technology infrastructure is vital, according to Knopp. By analyzing current power use and expenditures, organizations can create solutions that reduce utility expenses through ventilation and cooling management. Additionally, organizations can identify and implement utilization and other efficiencies, improve systems cooling, and foster infrastructure agility to manage data and meet future demands.
Other Sustainability Strategies
Knopp pointed out that IBM has used sustainable forest products and recyclable packaging for the shipment of its mainframes, increased the capacity per kWh by more than 100 times in 14 generations, and recycled more than 18,000 metric tons of its products in 2021. About 97.7% of IBM’s products have been reused, resold, and recycled, with just 0.3% going to the landfill. As part of its sustainability efforts, she added that IBM has a program through which companies can send older mainframes to be refurbished and become certified pre-owned mainframes for resale. Knopp added that mainframes typically last about 11 years, which compared to an AWS server with a lifetime of five years and a Google server with a lifetime of four years, according to Data Center Frontier.
CCF analysis isn’t only about energy consumption. It is also about building an enterprise that is sustainable in every facet of its processes, including the supply chain and any outsourced or offshore operations. Enterprises need to rethink planned obsolescence in which devices are replaced every three to five years, for example, because it can increase e-waste. Additionally, companies like IBM need to focus on how to build devices and chips that work more efficiently, enabling the processing of more data. Enterprises that seek out renewable energies to power data centers and storage facilities also will be able to further reduce their CCF.
With responsible energy use and other renewable and non-renewable resources becoming ever-more urgent for responsible organizations, IBM mainframes are an increasingly compelling future-enabling option.