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An Overview of CompTIA’s Strata Green Program

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In March 2010, CompTIA added the Green IT certification to its array of IT industry certifications and exams. This offering is one of three certifications currently included in CompTIA’s Strata Program, a line-up designed for those with skills or experience below their traditional starting point (A+, Network+, Security+ and more specialty exams). The Strata Program markets itself not only to students and new entrants to the IT industry looking to gain credibility and begin developing a portfolio of credentials, but also IT veterans looking to supplement their credentials with unique specialty certifications.
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In March 2010, CompTIA added the Green IT certification to its array of IT industry certifications and exams. This offering is one of three certifications currently included in CompTIA’s Strata Program, a line-up designed for those with skills or experience below their traditional starting point (A+, Network+, Security+ and more specialty exams). The Strata Program markets itself not only to students and new entrants to the IT industry looking to gain credibility and begin developing a portfolio of credentials, but also to IT veterans looking to supplement their credentials with unique specialty certifications.

The first certification included in the Strata Program is IT Fundamentals. Requiring only a very fundamental familiarity with hardware and software components, security issues, and troubleshooting techniques, the exam serves as an adequate starting point for candidates to assess their knowledge and determine which areas need reinforcement before pursuing other certifications. Strata’s second offering, IT for Sales, takes a unique look at the IT industry by not only testing technical knowledge, but also the interpersonal skills required to interact with and satisfy customers.

Introducing the Green IT Certification

In this nine-part series, we will focus on the third certification added to CompTIA’s Strata program, Green IT. While environmentally-sound, or “green,” technology practices were first placed in the spotlight by the introduction of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program, the topic has gained considerable interest from both individuals and businesses in recent years. Extending well beyond simply putting monitors in sleep mode or printing on both sides of paper, businesses of all sizes are now starting to employ a plethora of green practices throughout their IT operations. The Green IT certification targets the IT decision-makers of organizations of all sizes to validate their proficiency in the growing body of knowledge associated with running a more sustainable, efficient, and environmentally-friendly IT department.

Before we outline the objectives of the CompTIA Green IT exam and certification, let’s take a deeper look at the burgeoning trend of Green IT throughout the business world. Based on a 2009 survey of most upper-level IT professionals, CompTIA reports that 60 percent of organizations are already implementing Green IT strategies to cut costs and reduce their environmental footprint. The study revealed that economic and environmental factors were equally motivating in leading companies toward greener practices. Additionally, the study showed that 77 percent of organizations plan to launch full-fledged Green IT initiatives within the next five years. The entirety of the survey’s findings is detailed in a reported titled Green IT: Insights and Opportunities, available to CompTIA members at their online Member Resource Center.

Have the budding green efforts of IT departments affected perceptions of their respective companies? A 2009 study by MediaPost titled The Conscious Consumer Report reveals that green business practices are not going unnoticed[md]or unrewarded[md]by consumers. Sixty-seven percent of the study’s respondents stated that they considered purchasing products with positive social and environmental effects. This is an impressive indicator, considering the economic downturn of recent years that has made low prices an increasingly pressing influence in purchasing decisions. Furthermore, just over half of respondents said they were willing to pay more for products they considered to have a positive impact. To read the full results of The Conscious Consumer Report click here.

All these trends make two conclusions apparent. First, the demand for individuals who can bring an expertise in environmental responsibility to a company is growing. Second, those who do not become familiar with green strategies will soon be out-of-date with the needs of a majority of their prospective employers. For IT professionals, securing certification in Green IT early can help them become forerunners in the field, reinforce their value with current employers, and increase their attractiveness when entering the job market.

Part One of the Exam

The process of attaining Green IT certification begins with understanding the objectives of the certification exam and determining which areas require the most attention. The CompTIA Strata Green IT exam is comprised of two main sections[md]Green IT Techniques and Technologies and Green IT Policies and Standards[md]each of which are broken down into subcategories with multiple objectives. Section 1.1 assesses candidates on their ability to perform one of the simplest (but also most important) practices of Green IT: disposing of hazardous materials in an environmentally-sound manner. In 2007, The Environmental Protection Agency reported that only 18% of disposed computer products, about 48 million units, were recycled or disposed of properly. From batteries to motherboards to monitors, a number of toxic substances[md]such as mercury, lithium, and lead[md]are found in IT equipment and can pollute soil if thrown away in landfills. Making the switch to environmentally-responsible disposal techniques is an easily-implementable change for IT departments. As indicated by being the first category listed on CompTIA’s exam, it’s also a great place for companies to start their green initiatives.

A number of specific objectives concerning equipment disposal are listed under Section 1.1. Candidates are first expected to have an understanding of the general concepts of computer recycling: ways to reuse equipment in-house, and why recycling is important if reuse is not possible. The disposal of cathode ray tube (CRT) computers monitors, as well their replacement with LCD monitors, is next on the list of objectives. Candidates should be familiar with how and why batteries, toner and ink cartridges, cleaning supplies, and other materials that keep an IT department up and running should be safely handled.

Section 1.2 of the Green IT exam covers what may be the most talked-about aspect of the environmental tech world: power preservation. Again, many of the best practices tested in this section are easy changes to make and may already be implemented by many companies. Familiarity with power-saving features makes up the majority of this portion of the exam. Questions about screen brightness, sleep modes, and fan speeds are all included. In addition to power-saving settings, the more complex organizational practice of equipment consolidation is also covered. For questions such as these, candidates need to use a broader perspective of the organization as a whole to consider how implementing multi-functional devices and even consolidating vendors to reduce shipping emissions will affect the company and the environment.

Virtualization is the focus of Section 1.3. Interestingly, the Green IT exam tests candidates on their knowledge of not only the positive aspects but also the drawbacks of promoting a more virtualized IT environment. Yes, exam participants will see questions about best practices that lead to power reduction and costs savings through virtualization. They will, however, also need to be familiar with the potential problems associated with these practices, such as increased risk of network-wide failure and greater responsibility placed on the IT administration team that maintains the virtualized infrastructure.

The final section of Part One of the exam serves as a catch-all for a variety of other techniques and technologies that boost the green efforts of IT professionals. Included are small considerations such as duplex printing, converting to paperless documentation, and base-level questions about Energy Star rated products. Additionally, candidates should be prepared to be quizzed on the basics of green architecture and building set-ups, including energy-saving insulation, solar energy, and wind power.

Part Two of the Exam

Part Two of the exam makes up 20 percent of questions and uses a wider lens to look at the requirements of planning, implementing, and executing Green IT initiatives. While many of the practices and behaviors outlined in Part One may already be a part of an IT professional’s daily routine, Part Two will likely require more studying for most candidates. For instance, instead of simply asking how virtualization can reduce a company’s environmental impact, candidates must know how to calculate and assess the company’s existing carbon footprint and perform a full environmental audit to determine where improvements can be made. A number of questions are also included to test familiarity with the various organizations and standards (i.e., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Green Electronics Council and Agenda 21) that a professional will interact with while constructing a Green IT strategy.

Over the course of this nine-part series, we will provide a detailed look at each of these sets of objectives. Some of the topics covered may be elementary and seem like second nature, but many will also be new to most professional and require additional study before attempting the certification exam.

Sample Questions

In order to help prospective test-takers assess their own knowledge and identify which areas will need special focus as this series continues, we have included a brief list of sample questions and answers from various portions of the exam below.

  1. Which statement about active and passive heat-sink cooling is true?
    1. Passive heat-sinks accumulate more dust than active
    2. Passive heat-sinks are more prone to failure and system overheating
    3. Active heat-sinks use fans for additional cooling, while passive heat-sinks do not
    4. Active heat-sinks require less electricity for sustained use than passive
  2. Which of these is not a drawback of virtualization of IT equipment?
    1. Increased network traffic within a single node
    2. Increased initial investment
    3. Increased licensing costs
    4. Increased administrative duties
  3. The European Community directive 2002/96/EC is also known as what?
    1. The Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive
    2. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive
    3. Agenda 21
    4. ISO 21931
  4. Which of these is not considered a suitable energy-efficient display method?
    1. Using a shared thin client
    2. Using a shared terminal
    3. Using desktop sharing software
    4. Using a traditional high-speed graphics processing unit
  5. If a desktop computer consumer 200 watts of power per hour and is left running 24 hours per day, how much power is it consuming daily?
    1. 0.48 kilowatt-hours per day
    2. 4.8 kilowatt-hours per day
    3. 48 kilowatt-hours per day
    4. 480 kilowatt-hours per day

Answers to Sample Questions

  1. C
  2. C
  3. B
  4. D
  5. B

In the next installment, a detailed analysis of objective 1.1: environmentally sound disposal techniques.

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