Microsoft Suggests IT Industry Look to Energy Efficiency, Is EE Enough?

When sustainable energy comes up in the realm of IT, it usually involves low carbon energy production and a better use of energy consumption.  Even Microsoft environment chief suggests the IT industry needs to look at efficiency in data centers.  However, there is a missing component to this sustainable energy production and consumption equation.  Perhaps the IT industry needs to look at the IT industry itself [sic] to be more sustainable.  Let me explain. 

With more and more of our data going online and into the cloud, IT is playing a pivotal role in terms of sustainability.

On the energy production side, there is a focus of getting energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar.  These sources help drive down the impact on our planet.  However, this is nothing unique to IT.

On the energy consumption side, there is emphasis on energy efficiency.  Energy efficiency is about using no more energy than what is needed.

Through the use of technological innovations, we can lower our energy consumption thus increasing efficiency.  This includes IT data center and building design and energy-efficient equipment, which also drives down impact. For instance, the Microsoft sustainable building practice utilizes the following in its facilitates:

  • High-efficiency electric motors for pumps and fans.
  • Electronic variable speed drives.
  • Electronic ballast for fluorescent lamps.
  • Occupancy dimmers.
  • Adjustable speed motors for ventilating systems.
  • Garage fans with carbon-monoxide sensors that run only when needed.

Many of these solutions are also not necessarily unique to IT, but they play an important role for sustainability.  Even if a data center uses renewable energy, even if the data center is energy efficient, the missing sustainability component is computational and algorithmic efficiency.

Efficient coding, so to speak, is yet another area to help lower impact.  This is where the IT industry needs to look at the IT industry.

To illustrate this point, let us think about the impact of a inefficient code via a slow webpage.  For easy calculations, let’s say the webpage takes 2 seconds to load.  Think of how much energy is being wasted on you computer while waiting for the page to load.  Think of how much energy is being used on the server end.  Or just the plain time wasted waiting for the page to load.

Still with me?  Now take that same webpage and make its code more efficient. Assume everything is the same, the internet connection, the computer, the server, etc..   Let’s say through better coding, the same exact webpage can load in 1 second instead of 2 seconds.  Not only is there less time waiting and more time doing, but there is also less energy being used on your end, and the server end.

You might think this may be crazy, that a savings of 1 second is meaningless. But add that up with all the websites you visit in a day, and all the people on the Internet around the world.  That is a plethora of energy savings.

The biggest drawback to implementing sustainability through better coding is that the coders themselves will have to do it.  An outside sustainability consultant probably won’t be able to look at lines of code and tell you where to make the changes (at least not yet.)  Furthermore, a coders primary focus is to get their code to work.

However, by the same token, code that is fast will most likely make an efficient use of energy resources.  Thus leading to a win-win performance benefit.

Microsoft is on the right track with urging the IT industry to look towards energy efficient data centers.  In terms of sustainability, energy efficiency is only part of the equation.  Renewable energy is another area of focus.  However, a crucial area for IT is not to look outward, but inward to one of their core competencies, code efficiency.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

2 responses

  1. If you install firebug in firefox and do a network peek, a typical page load of 10 seconds (which is actually quite fast), 6.5 seconds are used for DNS name lookup. You can see it in your browser status (looking up xxx).

    Plus WordPress is dog slow. This blog page is a good example.

    1. Thanks for the heads up on the technicals:). I hope my pedagogical example wasn’t too out of line with reality.

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