Business Offices: Energy Hogs

I know; we’ve heard it all before. Remember when we were supposed to have “paperless offices?” What a joke that was! There must have been a huge virgin forest — or two — harvested just for bureaucrats to produce huge paper binders instructing business offices on how to accomplish the elimination of paper. Sadly, it didn’t work.

The idea of a paperless office was, and is, a great idea, but not until the technology existed to manipulate the data the papers once held. Scanners had to be developed to copy a document into a computer’s memory, software had to be written allowing our other software to literally “read” the text of a copied document and increasingly sophisticated servers had to be developed in order to provide enough virtual filing space. Emails were almost always printed for a paper record. Although appreciated for its speed, email was considered transitory and the idea of keeping tens of thousands of messages available for years was unheard of.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

So, while we were headed in the right direction, business offices still demanded increasing amounts of energy every year. Fax machines, modems, scanners, the new and sophisticated copiers, personal computers for each employee, telephone systems that required electricity to work, printers and an alarmingly larger number of servers were required each year for data storage and recall. The electrical needs of the more modern office easily outpaced an antique office from the 1980s with a couple of electric typewriters, a copy machine and an intercom system. Now, offices require air conditioning not simply for the comfort of their employees, but to protect their computer technology as well. For instance, think about what one commonly hears upon turning on a desktop computer: the rumble of the disc drive beginning to rotate and, usually, the sound of a small energy-gobbling fan designed to dissipate the heat produced from the constant movement of rotating disc drives and the constant friction of the disc heads scanning the drives for data.

Is Green Technology for Real?

Yes, the words “green” and “technology” can now legitimately be included in the same sentence without someone bringing up other examples of oxymoron. This has never been truer or as well documented than in Tom Coughlin’s recent article for Forbes. Solid-state storage drives — flash memory — are green for the following reasons:

·       The rotating disc drive and the energy required to both spin the disc and cool it with a fan are eliminated. As an aside, this also speeds up computer systems by eliminating lag time or “latency.”

·       Elimination of the friction of the disk head as it “reads” the spinning disc drive not only saves energy as the system no longer needs a fan, it also avoids the inevitable replacement of a given disc or server because of failing disc performance. This second type of green influence avoids the necessity of the raw material to build new equipment.

·       The remarkable decrease in size of the technology necessary to store the same amount of data provided by flash memory is an essential component of its green categorization. What once required a warehouse — and the electricity, heating and the air conditioning that accompany such — can now be stored in a Winnebago’s parking space.

The New Technology Superhero

Flash technology is, indeed, the superhero of the green technology movement. Flash memory, combined with increasingly sophisticated use of cloud technology, may indeed result in a “paperless office.”