An Eco Friendly Bid to Cut the Cost of Computing

Edward Hunter
Edward Hunter

Why is this the right time for the IT industry to act on this critical issue?

Hunter: With oil at $70 a barrel, the problem is obvious. Several industry players, such as Google, have publicly recognized the impact of rising energy costs on their bottom line. Until there is a metric that allows for equitable equipment comparisons manufacturers can’t compete on a level playing field and that’s not good for customers or the environment. At Sun we’re committed to innovating around energy efficiency and eco-responsible computing. Chipmakers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of the SPEC Power-Performance Committee, plan to release a draft spelling out procedures for measuring and reporting server efficiency.

Sun held an Eco-Forum in January to identify the issue of energy consumption. What was the result?

Hunter: Customers are interested in better understanding their total cost of ownership involved in running their data centers. Part of that cost is energy consumption as measured in the cost of power going into the data center. Our goal is to provide some mechanism for computing that cost and comparing costs between different manufacturers. The costs to the customer for taking these additional measurements should be minimal since either the manufacture will supply the number or the customer can collect it as part of their validation of the system through running benchmarks etc. The customers are also interested in involving companies that can provide input on measurement device specifications and methods for measuring power to the server.

What are the companies involved?

Hunter: Sun Microsystems, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Intel, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs and Rumsey Engineers are among the initial companies involved in the effort.

Once defined, what will the proposed metric enable IT purchasers to do for more energy efficiency?

Hunter: Once defined, it will enable IT purchasers to conduct side-by-side, industry standard comparisons for energy efficiency in servers, similar to benchmark measurements such as SPEC and TPC widely used today to evaluate system speed and processing power. Similar to miles per gallon metric used by many when purchasing a car, this metric will enable those purchasing servers to evaluate energy consumption in a standardized way.

Has any work been done on how much a company can save on its energy for a large data center with using servers that conserve power?

Hunter: Internal to Sun we have looked at technologies to save us money. For instance the thin client Sun Ray reduced energy costs by $8 million a year. We have deployed about thirty thousand Sun Ray’s across the company. We see savings from three main areas. First, reduced system administration costs due to more central administration of computing resources. Second, reduced electricity cost due to the lower power consumption of the Sunray. Last, lower capital cost since the cost of replacing a Sun Ray is significantly less than that of a desktop workstation or PC.

While environmentalists see advantages in an eco-friendly computing initiative, why is it good business for Sun?

Hunter: This is the right time for the industry to act on this important issue and the impact will be felt for years to come. These critical issues of power and cooling in the data center are at the top of the agenda for our customers and other companies spanning multiple industries. In addition to energy we discuss policy implications, packaging and people. For instance, there was some discussion in one of the breakout sessions at the Eco-Forum on the influence of the government’s energy star initiative on the server space. Andrew Fanara from the EPA has been in attendance at all of the meeting to represent the government viewpoint.

Sun’s initial steps to address these issues through our energy-efficient servers are only the beginning of a new awareness in our industry of how technology can do its part to save resources and have an impact on the environment. Anything good for our customers is good for us. To the extent customers save money buying our products, they’ll come back and buy more. And to the extent Sun is in a leading position right now we can convince the industry.

Where will Sun focus most of its attention this year?

Hunter: Sun is strongest in the area of our technology, our T1 chips run the T1000 and T2000 servers energy efficient and we have the technology focus on making this better for our customers. For example, the Sun Fire T1000 server recently demonstrated up to 5 times better performance per watt than competitive systems and our Sun Ray products now at 4 watts continue to drive energy efficiency in this space.

The other thing very important going forward is that customers need to be looking at not just the raw performance but also what their eco-footprint is. Simply stated the eco-footprint is how much do we consume from the eco system versus how much is available to consume. For instance, we know that the USA consumes 25 percent of the world’s energy yet is only 5 percent of the world population. That would seem to indicate an imbalance since if everyone else consumed their “fair” share we would exceed the total energy in the world by several times. Reducing your eco-footprint means reducing your overall effect on the eco-system by consuming less.
Sun also just created a new position of vice president of eco-responsibility and named industry veteran David Douglas to the post. He will head Sun’s environmental initiatives across the company.