Integration of green IT knowledge in education
Henk Plessius
The increasing interest in sustainability in the world of IT has not yet fully found its way to educa-
tion. Contrary to sectors like engineering and chemistry, where sustainability seems incorporated
quite generally in the curricula nowadays, it hardly is a topic in the IT curricula of higher educa-
tion. A quick scan conducted by the author in The Netherlands in January 2012 (Plessius, 2012),
showed that in the higher educational sector only in 10% of all IT curricula sustainability had
gained a systematic (and measurable) place. This may well become a bottleneck for the greening
of the IT sector, as academic and professional research are necessary conditions for innovation
and without innovation, sustainability and reduction of energy-use will stall.
This apparent lack of interest towards sustainability in IT education may be due to the techno-
logical rat race in the sector: hardware and software technologies quite often are outdated within
a couple of years, making it a major task to offer a more or less up-to-date curriculum to students.
There are however many reasons why sustainability should be taken into account in the IT curric-
ula, the two foremost being energy consumption and electronic waste (e-waste or e-scrap). There
is however a strategic reason as well: sustainability becomes increasingly important for business
continuity. Let us look at some examples that emphasize the importance of green IT solutions.
As we mark the fifth anniversary of our annual study of the digital universe, it behooves us to
take stock of what we have learned about it over the years. We always knew it was big—in 2010
cracking the zettabyte barrier. In 2011, the amount of information created and replicated will
surpass 1.8 zettabytes (1.8 trillion gigabytes)—growing by a factor of 9 in just five years.
(Source: Gantz, J.and Reinsel, S. ExtractingValue from Chaos. IDC iView. June 2011. See
digital_universe (Gantz and Reinsel, 2011)).
As revealed in a study by IDC (Gantz and Reinsel, 2011), the amount of stored information
has grown with almost 70% each year for the last five years and it is expected to grow by at least
the same percentage in the next decade. This growth rate implies a staggering 100-fold increase
of digital data for the next decade—almost beyond belief if we had not realized a similar growth
in the last 10 years! This growth has been made possible by a yearly price-reduction for storage
of 50% and exploding budgets for IT in enterprises.
Without technological advancements, the power consumption of the equipment needed for
storing and handling of all these data would have increased a 100-fold as well. Luckily, technology
did not stagnate: a survey carried out in 2007 at Stanford University (Koomey, 2007) shows a
relatively moderate twofold increase in power consumption over a 5-year period. Extrapolating,
this means that in 10 years time, the energy consumption of the average server park will have
to increase by a factor 4 to handle the predicted data growth. We may be able to cope with that
growth for the decade to come, but it is obvious that yet another 10 years of such growth in
energy consumption is not feasible. Therefore, the challenge is to meet the increasing demand
for IT, while on the other hand staying within the current power envelope (see, for instance, the
Chapter 7 written by Kalsheim and Beulen in this book). This means that “power consumption”
will become a constraint like “performance”, “privacy”, “responsiveness”, etc. and we need a
new generation of IT-specialists who know how to deal with this phenomenon.

Get Green ICT & Energy now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.