Forget about cutting-edge research into more efficient information technology, and start with using the IT that you have more efficiently.

That's the simple strategy that the United Kingdom is taking to cutting its government IT energy footprint, John Suffolk, the nation's chief information officer, said Thursday in San Jose.

That includes steps as simple as using fewer printers per employee, making sure those printers print on both sides of the paper, he said.

But Suffolk also gave a plug to using thin clients in lieu of PCs to cut energy use – welcome words, no doubt, to the executives at thin client maker Wyse Technology, which hosted the talk by Suffolk and California CIO Teri Takai.

"For the love of me, I can't understand why we persist on having a big lump of lead on the desk" for every government employee, Suffolk said, using a less-than-generous description of the modern PC.

Of course, thin clients – essentially terminals that operate from centralized servers – can't universally replace PCs, he added. Laptops – albeit more efficient ones – will be needed for government employees on the go, and PCs will still be needed for more high-powered computing.

But for most government employees who may use their PCs for little more than word processing and sending email, the "thin model" is "not the only answer, but it is a starting point," he said.

Thin clients are an increasingly attractive options for government and corporate offices alike, their supporters say – particularly in areas where utilities are offering rebates to those that make the switch (see Green Light posts here and here).

Suffolk also praised the virtues of virtualization as a way to keep server energy use at a minimum – once again, statements that must have pleased fellow panel speaker Mark Templeton, president and CEO of virtualization and cloud computing company Citrix Systems.

But as far as the widespread adoption of cloud computing – essentially offering applications and virtualized resources to desktop machines over the Internet – Suffolk was less sanguine, citing worries about protecting secure government data.

"Before you can go cloud in a big way, you need to know what you're doing," he said.

Suffolk also downplayed the push to make data centers more efficient, saying that while making new data centers more efficient was worthwhile, money spent on retrofitting old data centers might be better spent (see Sun's Take on Green Datacenters in 2009).

California CIO Takai was less specific on the state's green IT plans – but that was because the state's green IT strategy is being develop now, with hopes of releasing it to the public in mid-May, she said.

In broad terms, the state's strategy won't just include calculations of how much electricity the state's offices and data centers use, she said in an interview after the event.  

It will also take into account how changing IT use could better allow government workers to telecommute and state residents to access services online, thus cutting down on miles driven, fuel burned and greenhouse gases emitted.

The state also intends to present a strategy recycling used electronics, she said – something that the U.K. already contends with under the European Union's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, Suffolk noted.

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