‘Eco-Responsible Processors’: A Step Towards More Sustainable Computing?

Joel Makower has posted a through overview of Sun Microsystemsannouncement of a new “energy-efficient processor that will debut in a new line of servers by the end of the year.” Sun claims that this new processor “could eliminate the number of Web servers in the world by half, slashing power requirements and having the same effect in reducing carbon dioxide emissions as planting one million acres of trees.” Joel notes:

This is no small matter. While a great deal of focus has been on reducing the energy use of consumer electronics, such as PCs and TVs, far less has gone into the energy impacts of server farms — facilities housing massive computing storage and routing wizardry used by Google, eBay, Yahoo, and just about any other Web site that maintains a database, performs e-commerce, or facilitates e-mail, Internet telephony, music streaming, and all the rest. Server farms require energy to operate all that electronic equipment, and gobs more to keep the equipment cool. A typical data center can consume nearly 4,000 watts per square foot — roughly 15 times what they consumed in the early 1990s, and more than half the power required by many homes, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

Certainly, that’s big news. I found Joel’s explanation of Sun’s “thin-client strategy” even more encouraging:

McNealy has long been championing Sun’s “thin-client” strategy, in which individuals log on to a server that contains, in effect, their desktop, including all of their programs and documents, just the way they left them. That strategy — McNealy calls it DOIP, for “Desktop Over Internet Protocol,” eliminates much of individual computers’ innards — hard drives, memory chips, fans, and more. (Thereby eliminating, as McNealy puts it, “a personal space heater on everybody’s lap or workspace.”) And it means not having to upgrade your hardware every time Microsoft (or whomever) introduces a radical new operating system or software suite; the latest version lives in the server. It also facilitates “commute-free remote access work environments for employees,” enabling employees to work from anywhere, thereby eliminating office space (about half of Sun’s employees don’t work from company offices). That saves even more energy and improves worker productivity.

Lots to chew on here — Joel takes this even a step further and looks at these developments in terms of “radical resource productivity” explained in Natural Capitalism (affiliate link). He parallels this with GE’s recent eco-imagination campaign — I think I find this more promising, for no other reason than I can imagine Sun’s efforts as a genuine effort to do business more sustainably (still having trouble with that with GE).

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