IT's energy for the future

Sun has done sterling work in cutting its data-centre energy requirements. There's a lot left to do

Green dogfood is an unappetising prospect. Sun, however, is an avid consumer — in the rather indelicate parlance of technology marketing, it's dogfooding its own power-management message. Pricked to review site usage by expiring leases, Sun decided to redesign its data centres to make best use of the virtualisation and energy-optimisation methods it has been promoting to the rest of us for some time.

The results are exemplary, reports the company. If true, there can be no excuse for any organisation to ignore these lessons when the time comes to recast the data centre. Proper attention to power, cooling and application management result in proper savings and proper environmental benefits. Good — but not good enough. This is engineering. We need vision.

Imagine the world's most efficient data-processing system, one where every joule expended can be accounted for and linked to whichever line of code consumed it. Imagine that level of instrumentation stretched out across every IT device in the world, with control software that could find the most efficient use of global resources for any particular task. No component that consumes power escapes consideration, even down to individual chips on boards.

A parallel with networking is appropriate: in order to make that work in the enterprise and beyond, every node is instrumented, with considerable computing and human resources applied to monitoring and controlling. Would such a fine level of detail be appropriate to power management? We don't know, but whatever the optimal degree of finesse is, nobody believes we're there yet. Finding out where we want to go should be a very high priority.

There is much work to be done across the industry. Simulations of possible micromanaged systems, protocols and methodologies for power monitoring and control, the mathematics of optimising complex systems for power taken against computing done — all these will be needed across the industry at some point, and the sooner the better.

A lot of effort for little reward? We won't know until we try, and as speculative ventures go this is one that deserves serious consideration. The IT industry could even end up showing the world how to live richly in an energy-poor future. Unlike the systems themselves, a better justification for our continued existence is hard to imagine.