Powerful argument for green machines

Living in the Middle East, it’s pretty hard to get away from conversations about oil: sales of the black stuff underpins so much of the economic development of the region. But did you stop to think about how much it takes to run your IT systems?

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By  Peter Branton Published  December 18, 2005

|~|comment42body.jpg|~|Around 80 barrels a day are needed to run an IT system, according to Sun. |~|Living in the Middle East, it’s pretty hard to get away from conversations about oil: sales of the black stuff underpins so much of the economic development of the region. But did you stop to think about how much it takes to run your IT systems? A current Sun Microsystems marketing campaign suggests the answer is around 80 barrels a day: the amount burned each day by the average data centre, in energy costs. You don’t have to be up to date on oil prices to know that is quite a lot. This month, a leading computer expert, one Luiz Andre Barroso, who is an engineer for search engine giant Google, warned that if computers don’t get more efficient then the electrical cost of running them could soon prove to be far greater than the initial hardware cost of buying them. Barroso, who previously designed processors for the now-defunct Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), is warning that if performance per watt stays the same as it is now, then power costs will soar as usage continues to increase. For an organisation like Google, which uses thousands of high-power consuming computers, that is going to be a worry for its fuel bill. Longer term, the energy costs — in the environmental sense — could prove to be expensive for all of us. “The possibility of computer equipment power consumption spiralling out of control could have serious consequences for the overall affordability of computing, not to mention the overall health of the planet,” Barroso wrote in a paper published in a specialist computer journal last month. Sun’s publication of the figures about how many barrels of oil it takes to run your data centre are not entirely altruistic of course: the server firm has this month launched a range of processors, which it claims are the first “eco-responsible” products on the market. The Niagara processors contain patented technology, which allows them to consume less than half the power used by chips from rivals Intel and IBM. While Sun has been keen to pitch Niagara as the first processors to address the demands of ‘Web 2.0’, it has also been highlighting the power saving benefits the chip delivers. Sun has also been pushing the concept of utility computing for quite some time of course, where processing power is a commodity. Its Sun Grid pricing model allows users to buy processing power and storage by the hour, for a flat rate. The company has said that this will be the way people buy their computing systems in the future. While the concept of utility computing may be some way off for the Middle East, you may just want to look at ways of saving money from your utility bill now. ||**||

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