Energy Consumption and the Opportunities for the IT Industry

By Sudha Reddy

The IT industry contributes the same amount of emissions as the global air travel industry. It’s rumored that about 7 tons of CO2 are emitted per every million Google searches. Imagine the gigantic datacenters and servers that need to run all across the world to find answers to your queries. Given our current effects of climate change, technologies are probably harmful to the environment. But think about the world’s carbon footprint without the internet. “The Internet itself is carbon negative” says Subodh Bagat, Vice President, Energy Efficiency at Sun Microsystems, speaking at a recent “State of the Green Clean Industry” conference in Santa Clara. “Think of all the pages you need to print and all the miles you travel to share information and you can do online shopping too.” Without the Internet we’d be forced to emit much more carbon than we already do.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is one of the biggest areas of opportunity right now in reducing carbon emission. Datacenters are the first point of energy consumption in this industry. If datacenters can be more effectively harnessed by society, we can achieve huge energy savings. And unlike green consumer products, these can be made cost effective to the consumer. ICT’s can not only help in having a direct environmental impact but can also make people aware of the fact that things they do can have an indirect impact on the environment. Regulators should help force such efficiencies in this industry. Unlike Europe, the US regulations around ICT are focused on the wrong things. For example, a server is considered energy efficient if it uses less energy without comparison to how much work it does.

But is there a market for energy efficient servers or computers? Of course. The same way that the market for faster computers is all based on individual using computers, the market for energy efficient systems is the whole market of consumers using computers. After availability and performance, designing for efficiency is the next big thing. There is an untapped opportunity for such servers as well as software. Shutting down when the computer is not in use is one example of a simple step that can go a long way. A big part of making IT more efficient is by making it a shared resource. It’s important to get companies to embrace the concept of shared resources. Every minute there are millions of computers around the world switched on and not being used consuming zillions of watts of power. If these can be put to use, may be even for simple google searches, there would not be a need for so many data centers.
As data centers become more efficient, attention will shift to PCs. In some cases, PCs consume more energy than data centers but this is difficult to measure because PCs are much more distributed. But an untapped market is to characterize all the networked PCs into making them energy efficient. Energy efficient software is an emerging area as well. Software may be used to automate shutting off lights and monitors. Applications can be built to run on multiple servers or shared resources. A dashboard can give real time feedback of energy consumption in a building. Technologies such as the energy reporting dashboards are great for office buildings and universities says John Skinner, Director of Marketing, Eco-Technology division at Intel. Currently Intel is pursuing such opportunities and also planning to conduct a video contest on You Tube to spur innovative ideas to save energy.

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