Lower power for a brighter future

IT used to be about the hows and whys. Now it's time for the watts
Written by Leader , Contributor

Power is everybody's problem. Cost and availability has already forced major server farm projects from Microsoft and Google to remote sites near to hydroelectric power stations, and now the same factors are limiting what far more modest concerns can do with their computers. With the economy moving online and users demanding richer, more CPU- and data-intensive services, many companies are looking at how fast they can afford to expand their server provisions — and finding that the limiting factors are the cost of getting electricity in and heat out.

It used to be that saving power was all about turning off the lights. It still is — any company that doesn't know its IT power spend or have a policy that turns off idle screens and shuts down computers overnight is verging on the feckless. The issue is now much more involved, and deserves to be at the heart of IT planning.

The innovators are working hard at fixing the problems. There's no magic solution, just hard work and good thinking. For example, Intel has long researched power reduction techniques for laptops — screens that darken the backlight and lighten the display palette, flash memory caches for hard disks — and is now migrating those to desktop and server. Other ideas, such as far more efficient power supply architectures, are still in the labs, while the concept of making power consumption a fundamental aspect of silicon engineering is firmly established.

But it needs more. To pull these ideas and more out of the labs and in to the server room, the industry needs to see demand. If IT specifiers and planners make energy consumption their priority, the designers and manufacturers will respond. Ask for energy roadmaps. Include power costs in expansion plans — and make it clear that money saved on consumption is money to be spent on infrastructure. The more we demand, the more we'll get.

Don't hang about. With rising per-unit energy costs we won't have the luxury of ignoring the issue for much longer. Those who take action now will benefit the most in the long run — and that's from purely a business argument. Add the environmental aspect, and the logic becomes irresistible. A new way of thinking is needed from us all — high wattage ideas for a low wattage future.

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