India finds biz appeal in green IT

Businesses in country adopt holistic approach to solve IT energy wastage, which has suffered from piecemeal products and relied on social conscience.

Companies in India have adopted a holistic approach to solve the problem of IT energy wastage, a movement which has suffered from piecemeal green computing products and relied on appealing to the social conscience.

The green computing climate was different three years ago when Madhavan Srinivasan and Baskar Subramanium founded consulting firm, gQuotient. Their altruistic goals to reduce carbon emissions via power-efficient IT products did not resonate with customers who could not afford to be green.

Srinivasan said: "All of them liked the idea of a company focused on green IT or green computing, but they were not sure there was enough money to be made in that because it was still a social cause...something nice to have rather than a necessity."

The company returned to the drawing board.

It observed CIOs could not measure energy used by IT equipment and the associated expenditure, as well as supporting appliances such as air conditioning and UPSes (uninterruptible power supplies). The founders realized the market needed software to measure power usage and identify areas of wastage where new technologies could reduce overall electricity spend.

"There is a big gap in the way they understood green IT from an economic sense because they did not know the data," Srinivasan said. "When we measure their usage, we come back with a dashboard and say, 'this is the utilization pattern, this is the kind of power consumption and data you have, this is because the servers are not fully utilized and because the servers are under or over provisioned'."

"So you need to come up with a consolidation strategy--use virtualization and eventually move to cloud--so your carbon footprint is reduced over a period of time."

gQuotient promises to cut IT energy bills by up to 20 per cent, he said, adding that this model had been validated by its 15 customers which contribute US$1 million services revenues this financial year. He estimates the company will achieve US$2 million and US$3 million revenue next year, and plans to expand outside India to the United States, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

India has listened to the green computing mantra as the poor availability of electricity pushes up costs. The social benefits are merely a secondary concern.

Srinivasan said: "We look at it as two sides of the coin: you flip the coin and you have heads, the other side you have tails. In some sense, cost will drive green and sometimes, green will drive cost as well."

Letting green drive cost
IBM India's chief scientist for nanotechnology, Kota Murali, also observed a similar change in the market. He designs processors but 18 months ago stepped back from his day job to pursue the "golden triangle" of green computing: increase compute power, lower electricity usage, and adopt renewable energy sources.

Targeting technology's biggest energy offender-- data centers --Murali developed a solar-powered datacenter model which combined three technology developments: efficient solar panels, high-voltage DC processors, and water-cooling. The DC-to-DC conversion saves about 10 percent of power.

One of the biggest causes of electricity wastage in the compute cycle is the DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) conversion process. The IBM scientist designed processors that operated using high-voltage DC, eliminating the conversion middleman.

This also allowed solar power, which naturally generates DC, to be pumped directly to the processors.

Murali also reduced the total amount of power required to cool processors and servers by implementing water-cooling technology directly on the circuit board.

The result is mind-blowing, he said.

This soon-to-be-completed demo model at IBM's Bangalore offices will generate close to 30 teraflops using a solar panel array spread across a 6,000 square feet (sq ft) rooftop which generates 50kW.

"This is potentially game-changing because you're able to run a high density of compute," Murali said. "You can potentially have a totally off-grid solution in the future." These techniques condense a traditional 5,000 sq ft data center and consume 480MW of power into a single rack.

"A data center we built about five years ago which is doing something like 100 teraflops of compute power is now a couple hundred square feet of space and consumes about 170kW," he noted.

Putting green in rural India
In rural India, new renewable energy distribution models have helped telcos establish the technology infrastructure to provide new services.

OMC Power builds renewable energy power plants alongside mobile towers, and 50 percent of the energy is delivered to local rural communities which previously could not access the centralized electricity grid.

The plants will support next year's 4G rollout , according to OMC Power CEO Anil Raj, who said telcos require remote data centers to process and cache content.

"With the mobile networks architectures, you're going to see more distributed servers and there's going to be a micro data center co-located with each cell phone towers," Raj said. "You need to cache a lot of content especially when content moves from voice to data."

"The telco operators are going to migrate from the current centralized electricity grid architecture to a distributed model," he added.

According to Murali, green computing products have been piecemeal but the energy crisis such as the recent mass outage in north India  will shock people's expectations of using and accessing electricity.

"You have to build efficiency into every aspect: transistors, chips, servers and the data center. If you build extremely high-efficient servers and have a very poor design of your power supply into your data center, it makes no sense to me," he explained.

"As the energy crisis gets worse, I think people need to be thinking about these innovative technologies and until now, it's been piecemeal.

"These outages are a lesson for people to realize how bad it can get. I think this will only drive toward people creating energy-efficient and sustainable energy-producing solutions."

Mahesh Sharma is a freelance IT writer based in Australia.