We have finally realized that we are fast approaching a so-called Dark Age, when well experience a depletion of energy. By intention or design, IT departments seem to be aware of this environmental issue and are promoting the concept of green IT as a result. This basically involves the use of environmentally friendly and energy-efficient IT technologies. A lot of work has already been done on the concept of green IT, and this article focuses on applying the concepts of green IT specifically to the business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing world.
Meaning of Green IT
Green IT is the practice of using computing resources efficiently with the main objective of meeting the triple bottom line (TBL), which takes into consideration the economic, environmental and social performance of an organization. Green IT is also referred to in connection with the people, planet and profit initiatives of an organization aiming to become a TBL company.
Energy-Saving Concepts in IT
To give an idea of how green IT can be implemented, here are some IT initiatives that help in the realization of the green IT:
- Reduce energy consumption in data centers from hardware servers and their associated cooling.
- Manage desktop PC energy and heat emissions by using the sleep mode to reduce the energy usage.
- Use thin client applications to reduce energy usage on the desktops.
- Use telecommuting, telepresence, teleconferencing and hotelling of office spaces to reduce energy usage or waste.
- Reduce e-waste by taking advantage of vendor aided recycling programs.
- Reduce paper waste and use recycled paper for printing and copying.
- Purchase Energy Star computing resources.
- Use ink jet printers rather than laser printers. Ink jet printers use 80 percent to 90 percent less energy.
- Use virtualization technologies to reduce the amount of energy-consuming hardware resources, while keeping the personalization experience of the IT users intact.
How to Apply Green Concepts to BI
Based on the previously mentioned energy saving concepts, let us consider some of the micro- and macro-level innovations to undertake or evaluate (per our needs) in order to implement a green BI initiative in an enterprise.
Green BI can be supported by using recycled paper for printing critical BI reports for clients with a conscious note or logo mentioning the support of the green BI movement.
Most of the BI/data warehouse (DW) installations of Fortune 1000/100 organizations are based in large data centers that have been customized for exclusive use. This has resulted in the proliferation of data centers across the world. Huge energy requirements come with these data centers in terms of power supply, cooling and maintenance of customized data center infrastructure. This can be offset with the greater adoption of software as a service (SaaS) or managed services, or a hosted model for BI services. Essentially, large enterprises should be open to a switching to a hosted/on-demand model of BI infrastructures and services in a multitenancy mode to reduce the proliferation of energy-guzzling data centers.
If BI is only necessary for a few business functions or departments, it would be advisable to defer the implementation of enterprise-wide DWs to reduce the amount of hardware resources.
Another important aspect that can help in the green BI initiative is how reports are formatted and the scope of their content. It is better to design reports keeping the exact user in mind. This will ensure that a 10-column report is not created for only use of four of these columns. This also includes promoting report designs that are more mobile phone compatible (to reduce dependence on the companys IT infrastructure and reducing the pressure on the service level agreements [SLAs] for maintaining the IT infrastructure). Some of these formats could be key performance indicators (KPIs), alerts indicating a specific event or decision, instead of sending a full-fledged report to users workstations.
While defining the colors for report layouts, use the Energy Star wattage ratings to ensure that the colors are chosen from a low wattage palette.
It is very common to find BI/DW infrastructures (hardware and software) running 24x7, despite the fact that the bulk of the reporting is needed for the first half of the day. Though there is need for BI and reports during the latter part of the day, it is not volume intensive. This brings into question the design of data models; extract, transform and load (ETL) processes; aggregations; and latency such that a major part of the infrastructure runs only during the processing window and is shut down for the remaining period of time. The history can be segregated to daily, weekly, monthly and yearly to ensure flexibility in choosing when and which part of the DW can be up and which can be shut down. This would decrease the associated energy spent on the hardware, thus supporting the green BI initiative.
The design and use of online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes as the source of data for analytical usage should be encouraged. It will reduce the always on requirement of a DW, thus allowing the hardware resources to be shut down for certain time windows.
The concept of the lifecycle of data in the DW should be implemented seriously. It is critical to determine what data is heavily used, dormant (and for how long), redundant and dead (metaphorically). This will ensure that ETL processes are not continued on millions of data records when only 40 percent of that data is relevant to the current business context. Detailed information about data will reduce the ETL processing times, the report preparation times and the associated energy use.
Because most BI is consumed in the form of reports, it is not uncommon to see BI users viewing reports on computer screens. LCD screens are preferable. They consume less energy than other types of display screens. It would also help to create a network of dumb LCD terminals specifically for BI use. Virtualization technologies can be used to give the necessary personalization illusion to the users. The size of LCD screens can also be customized for the usage needs of the BI users in an organization.
Benefits to BI Service Providers
An immediate benefit of the green BI initiative for BI service providers is that they can present green BI as a service offering to help clients make their BI environments green. Another benefit is that organizations can ensure their service providers are complying with regulatory requirements and propagate the environment friendly concepts to clients.
Benefits to BI End Users
Any large organization that implements green BI can compute the reduction in the energy usage and carbon emissions. This not only helps project an environment friendly image, but also helps organizations earn precious carbon credits if applicable for their organizations.
The social benefit of green BI is that it creates wide-scale awareness among a large set of employees. They are likely to propagate it outside the office, which will have a cascading effect in spreading the green message throughout society in general.
The obvious economic benefit is greater savings by the organizations due to reduced energy use, which helps organizations to become TBL companies.
Benefits to the Environment
In conclusion, it would be apt to point out that the whole is equal to the sum of the parts. Implementing green BI initiatives is a way to contribute to the green IT environment initiatives being carried out worldwide.
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