Editor's Blog: Power matters and friendly Larry

Are energy costs 'killing you'?
Written by Sylvia Carr, Contributor on

Are energy costs 'killing you'?

Standing in for Tony Hallett, silicon.com analysis and reports editor Sylvia Carr writes from San Francisco.

I admit the phrase I'm about to use isn't the sexiest - but please, bear with me.

Power management - it's all anyone can talk about at the OracleWorld conference in San Francisco this week.

Reducing the power needed to run data centres especially but also servers, desktops and laptops more generally is no longer just another mundane detail for the spec sheet. It's a selling point which the big hardware vendors are advertising front and centre.

The kiosk in the exhibition hall for Sun - long known as a leader in this area - boldly proclaimed: "Good for your business/Good for the planet." In his keynote Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said the most common complaint he hears from customers is "power costs are killing me".

He plugged a cash rebates scheme for California customers using Sun hardware and showed off a nifty, energy-efficient data centre designed to fit in a 20ft shipping container for easy transportation - called Project Blackbox. Perhaps this is not so surprising from a company that has a vice president of eco-responsibility, though Schwartz said "eco stands for economics".

Michael Dell in his keynote said power management was a headache for end users on a par with the usual suspects, cost and complexity. Dell now uses the metric 'performance per watt' when describing hardware, and has a 'green' scheme which includes an energy calculator for customers to measure energy usage for various products.

During his time on the big stage HP CEO Mark Hurd said his company sees cutting power costs as a goal in its plan to consolidate servers.

You don't have to be an environmental scientist to figure out why power management is taking centre stage - rising energy costs mean IT chiefs must watch power usage like never before. Though undoubtedly the desire to be eco-friendly is also a motivator.

Power may not be sexy but when it starts to limit the IT department's ability to get work done, it deserves attention. Hardware vendors here told me user-organisations can't fill up the racks in their server rooms because of the electricity costs to run all that kit. Is this true? If any of you readers are changing your behaviours because of energy costs, do let us know by posting a Reader Comment below or emailing us at editorial@silicon.com.

The moral for IT chiefs is there's a lot that can be done. The hardware sellers are reducing power usage in each version of their servers, desktops and laptops - thanks largely to new tech all the way down to the silicon chip. For data centres, physical design - things like increasing airflow by installing a wire mesh floor - can have a huge impact. Then there are the everyday changes like making sure the workers turn off their PCs each night. For more about what CIOs and IT directors can do to cut power usage see this recent story.

None of this should be too surprising - as processing power increases, kit runs hotter and saps more energy. But it's good to see we're already creating the technology that addresses the problems earlier tech created. The responsible thing to do, no?

Another theme this week: Oracle's increasingly friendly demeanour. It's courting partners like never before as opposed to solely pursuing acquisitions.

One analyst told our sister site CNET News.com: "[Larry Ellison] is beginning to see he can't own the world or he'll alienate customers. He's finding it's better to own 70 per cent of a real large pie, than all of a smaller one."

But don't bet this is some change of heart - a new feel-good philosophy for a kinder, gentler Oracle trying to make up for bad karma. It's a pragmatic response to increased competition and the reality that its pockets aren't bottomless and it can't keep on buying up rivals forever.

And Oracle's not winning friends everywhere. The big announcement from Ellison's keynote - that Oracle will offer support for Red Hat Linux at lower prices than Red Hat does - will certainly cool relations with the Linux distributor.

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