A personal view of the Southampton Blackout

The headline result of the Southampton Blackout exercise have just been published, and show that a determined effort to switch off all office IT equipment and lights produces a 6% saving compared with an average of the four previous weekends. That is 16,000 kWh of electricity, equivalent to £1600 and 7 tonnes of carbon. The question is, how can staff be encouraged to adopt that ‘switch off’ behaviour as a matter of course?

The first step is to make it easy, and hopefully the desktop ‘lock and sleep’ button will achieve that – especially since the energy saved while people are away from their desks at meetings or lunch will really add up. My own experience is that it is also a good action psychologically at the end of the day: “OK, shut down now, it’s time to go home.”

The second step is to provide feedback, so hopefully data for each building can be automatically published each month (weekly seems too often) so that people can see the impact of their changed behaviour.

So how was the Blackout for me? I helped a colleague count the equipment in the iSolutions ServiceLine area, which was really difficult; it is a big open-plan room crammed with IT equipment. Many desks had two or three PCs and all had at least two displays (its all part of the job’s requirements). There were lots of PCs and screens that were not plugged in (presumably about to be tested), piles of laptops and all kinds of miscellaneous equipment such as videoconference units. Almost everything was switched off though – I’d give them a  B+

The colleague then took me on a tour of the two main server rooms in B54, and this revealed the true scale of the University’s IT power consumption. They were filled with closely-spaced towers containing hundreds of servers, storage units, switches and other gear – all pumping out waste heat that was whisked away by the air conditioning or in the case of the high performance servers, a chilled water system. The noise was terrific and I really got a sense of the power this operation takes – I was told that the power supplies can provide up to 2 megawatts.

What can be done to reduce this awesome consumption? iSolutions is moving as fast as it can towards virtualisation – where one physical server provides many virtual servers, thus greatly reducing the number required. This works really well for services that are not heavily used. This is all part of a grand plan to move to a new state-of-the-art server facility that will be located off-campus. The more modern design and equipment will provide huge energy efficiencies. More news on this later – but plans are well advanced.

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