In February 2021, IBM quietly announced its commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030. Yes 2030. That’s only nine years’ time.
You might be forgiven for thinking “Oh, just another large tech company jumping on the carbon neutral bandwagon”. Google any medium-to-large company or brand and I’d be incredibly surprised if you don’t find a public mention of some sort of sustainability or carbon reduction commitment.
It’s undoubtedly an ambitious target for IBM. But one thing I’ve learned after 15 years of working in and around IBM technologies is that IBM does not make public commitments that it doesn’t stick to. IBM has been making public environmental commitments and sticking to them since the 1960s. Google it. This looks less like jumping on the bandwagon and more like a cast-iron commitment.
Maybe that’s why the announcement was quiet? No need to shout about a subject you’ve been taking seriously for over half a century.
In recent months I’ve looked into the field of tech sustainability in detail, through an IBM Z lens. It’s only when you look underneath the covers that you truly realise the impact that 50-year focus has had.
Take Z power usage. Did you know that over last 26 years – 13 generations of Z from the G2s of 1995 to the z15s of today – that performance per watt of electricity has increased by 93 times? To put that into context whatever set of jobs or apps you were running 26 years ago for 930w (let’s call it 1000w for argument’s sake), on LinuxONE you can do that same thing but with only 1w of energy. Considering architectural changes too, it’s likely to be just a fraction of that in reality.
I could go into massive amounts of detail but take it from me, there is not a single component part of a LinuxONE machine where IBM has not assessed to some extent the environmental impact of that component: from the processor chipset to the packing materials a machine is shipped. Across its entire lifespan, from manufacturing and assembly of component parts through shipment, commissioning and day-to-day running to decommissioning, return, disassembly and recycling of practically all components and related materials.
So what does all of this mean and why does it matter?
In my day job I’m increasingly seeing the impact of public sustainability commitments. It’s incredibly high on the agenda everywhere and it’s not only IBM that’s accelerating toward carbon neutrality. We’re seeing the dynamics of conversations change. Only a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a large UK Z user about the ability to have sustainability related information visible in real time, feeding into Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tool sets for continuous monitoring across all levels of infrastructure. The primary purpose being able to look at sustainability related information across all slices of infrastructure, or for a particular application or piece of business processing.
The discussion took a further unexpected tangent: actually talking about finding reasons and ways to redistribute workloads and applications across infrastructure not only for performance, availability, resilience or security reasons – which we all know very well – but also for power conservation and economic reasons. In other words, run it on hardware where the environmental, economic and ethical impacts are the least possible, without sacrificing anything else, and automate it as well to fit your needs.
Why is this good for Z and the wider Z community?
IBM Z technology is renowned for being high performance with the ability to run an insane amount of concurrent workloads of all flavours: old and new, dedicated LPARs, multi-OS virtual environments, to ultra-modern containerised/micro services environments. All whilst remaining as we’ve come to expect, always evolving but incredibly resilient, securable with the ability to encrypt everything and the rest. If you can add “truly sustainable” to that list then this is something that we, the Z community, can really shout about.
From a GSE UK perspective, I think we can expect to see more sustainability issues and content filtering into our activities and being shared with members through GSE UK channels. Like this blog, for example. At the same time, we – as in GSE UK – would love to hear your own stories. How are you approaching net zero – and how is Z playing a part in sustainable computing in your organisation?
I am convinced that IBM Z has a significant role to play here, with its demonstrable “do more with less” capability and, if considered outside of traditional uses, can significantly contribute to helping organisations realise and perhaps even exceed their sustainability goals.
These things aren’t only beasts; they are sustainable beasts.
Joseph Kingham is a LinuxONE & IBM Z Technical Specialist at IBM, and co-chair of the GSE UK Large Systems Working Group. Joe has 15 years’ experience in enterprise IT architecture and solution design, with expertise across many platforms. He’s passionate about all things sustainability and in his spare time he’s a keen electric motocross rider and surfer. Joe writes here in a personal capacity: all views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of IBM and GSE UK.