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University of Michigan aims for green IT

Bruce Springsteen was right: “From small things, Mama, big things one day come.” In the case of the University of Michigan (U-M), a small phone call helped set off an ambitious campus-wide programme to reduce computing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

OK, maybe the phone call wasn’t quite so small. It came, after all, from Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

Page, an alumnus of U-M, called the university president last year to tell her about the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a non-profit organisation launched by Google and Intel. The group aims to cut computer energy consumption in half by 2010.

When an alum like Page calls, you listen, and U-M administrators did, setting off on a volunteer-driven, campus-wide effort to reduce IT energy consumption any way they could. The effort is no small task, considering the university is home to some 80,000 desktop computers, 100-plus server rooms and half-dozen data centers, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The cost of all that computing is hefty: $4.8 million in annual electricity bills and 65 million pounds of carbon emissions a year. Still, the university is making great strides toward cutting both those figures, aiming right now for an across-the-board 10-percent reduction in costs. It’s doing so in ways both big and small, from reminding students and faculty to switch off computers when not in use to consolidating servers in environmentally-controlled data centres for improved energy efficiency.

U-M is also spreading the word to others, having encouraged other universities in the Big 10 conference to also join the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. It’s also doing what it can to make sure old electronics ditched in favour of more efficient models don’t contribute to environmental pollution: this past spring, it hosted a recycling event that collected 145 tons of old computers, printers and other electronic devices — enough to fill up 11 tractor-trailer trucks.

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