A little light discipline

There's no point saving power in the engine room if the rest of the ship's ablaze

Recently, ZDNet UK attended the VMworld conference in Los Angeles. A major part of proceedings was the message that virtualisation can cut energy use, save money and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by significant amounts. Even given the nature of the source, the figures quoted were compelling. We were left in no doubt that for this reason alone — and there are many others — virtualisation would become virtually obligatory.

That evening, the conference attendees were shipped to the VMworld after-show party on the Universal Studios lot. As we were driven through LA's financial district, the vacant skyscrapers crowded around us. Barely an office was left unlit.

There is no point in developing ever-more efficient IT if corporate philosophy sees wanton energy usage as a macho symbol of power — the only explanation of those empty towers of light. If a company won't even switch off an unmanned office, there's no chance it will care about the consumption of its IT department. That may seem a counsel of despair. It's not, it's a challenge with rewards.

In time, of course, there will be no choice. Attitudes will change, even if that means dropping the carrot and applying the sticks of law and taxes. Inevitably, this will see a much greater degree of power management across the enterprise than is widely realised. With computation and communication cheap, and power expensive, we'll see every powered device under automated monitoring and control.

Which is familiar enough to the IT department, the only part of an organisation with experience in technology management. Becoming energy aware and actively managing power is worth doing for its own sake, even if the rest of the enterprise doesn't know or care. Doing that in the knowledge that the skills and techniques learned will become necessary across the board stops being merely worthwhile and starts to look like wisdom.

There will be a time — and it's not far away — when a skyscraper blazing with light in downtown Los Angeles or central London will be as unacceptable as a factory chimney spewing smoke. When that time comes, IT departments will have a natural role in managing power, as they manage telecoms and computing. Those who get there first and do it best will reap the greatest rewards.