Book review – Green IT by Toby Velte, Anthony Velte and Robert Elsenpeter

Green IT: Reduce Your Information System’s Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line is one of at least six investigations into Green IT, with three appearing last year and another three due this spring (see below).

On the evidence to date, none of these books has yet to do justice to this important, broad, technically challenging and politically lively subject. But Green IT gets a fair bit of the way there: it covers the basic issues such as waste, toxins, carbon and energy, as well as part of the legal framework; it also covers issues such as data centre design and cooling, and key issues around non-technical aspects such as paper reduction, recycling and purchasing.

It is also a frustrating and disjointed book that requires quite a lot of patience, at least from this reader. This is for two reasons: first, the book seems as if it were constructed in modules, rather than written by anyone with an overall perspective of, or passion for, the subject. At times, it drops into deep and often irrelevant detail about specific products or a particular vendor’s history; at other times it passes over or ignores important areas of this subject.

This may partly be because two of the book’s three authors have deep hands-on systems expertise, notably in Microsoft products and IT security. They demonstrate this knowledge by producing lists of products and descriptions of how to configure some of them – very useful if you are just about to start a project using those products solely.

Similar deep dives are made in some of the examples: in the storage section, for example, Compellent, a young storage company obviously well known to the authors, merits pages of description, while big players in storage, like EMC and HP, and innovators like 3Par and Copan, are ignored.

The second frustration for the reader is that the authors, although clearly knowledgeable, show little scepticism or curiosity. Initiatives by Dell, HP and Rackspace are described in detail – but they are not discussed. Is Rackspace’s energy supply in the UK (from a woodchip-fired, utility-linked power plant) really 100% renewable? Do customers’ typically opt to buy the Energy Star models that HP, Dell and others produce which come at a premium, but save on energy? Why do certain vendors with the loudest Green IT marketing voice not come top of the Greenpeace electronics suppliers green manufacturer’s list? Why do some choose not to calculate ‘embedded carbon’ in its servers?

More generally, some big topics receive scant attention: renewable energy for the data centre; the value of carbon offsets; how to track carbon through the supply chain; the merits of data centre metrics are not covered in the book.

And what about the benefits of energy management or the role of smart energy? Such questions are raised regularly by lobbyists, analysts and other observers in the field of Green IT.

In short, this is a book that covers parts of the area quite adequately, which at times is perceptive and useful, and whose authors are obviously knowledgeable and write well. But with a little less detail, and more questioning and context, it could have become a much more engaging and useful read.

Green IT: Reduce Your Information Systems Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line. By Toby Velte, Anthony Velte and Robert Elsenpeter. Published by McGraw-Hill Osborne. ISBN: 0071599231. Price: £14.99.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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