Creating a Greener Future

OEMs and chip makers race to expand energy-efficient capabilities.

Sun Microsystems first steps toward incorporating energy efficiency into its products started in 2002, when engineers began discussing the next generation of SPARC processors.

They saw the growth of highly parallel computing thanks to the rise of businesses needs for Web sites and e-commerce capabilities, according to Subodh Bapat, vice president and distinguished engineer for eco-responsibility for the Santa Clara, Calif., company.

Simply cranking up the speed of the processors wouldnt work in these environments, he said. The result would be higher energy consumption with minimal performance gains.

"We took a new approach," Bapat said in an interview with eWEEK. "We decided that it wasnt just raw performance that counts, but performance per watt."

Thus was born the UltraSPARC T1 chip—code-named Niagara—with eight cores that launched in 2005, at a time when other chip makers such as Advanced Micro Devices and Intel were just rolling out dual-core processors.

At the launch, then-CEO Scott McNealy touted the eco-friendly nature of the processor, predicting that energy efficiency was going to become a big issue in the not-too-distant future.

He was right. Over the past few years, green IT has become a mantra of sorts for OEMs and chip makers as they aggressively pursue ways to make their products more energy-efficient and thus attractive to businesses struggling with power costs that are spiraling out of control.


Most recently, Sun on Oct. 9 launched the first servers powered by the UltraSPARC T2, the next generation of the Niagara processors, which can process twice as many instructional threads as its predecessor.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., on Oct. 11 announced that, as part of its Project Big Green, it will start enabling mainframe customers to monitor the energy consumption of their systems in real time and publish energy consumption data for the z9 systems.

David Anderson, an IBM green consultant working on tracking the mainframe energy numbers, said it is important to offer an energy gauge similar to that of an automobiles gasoline gauge to show customers and the government how much "mileage" these systems are getting per watt.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, said it was a good marketing move by IBM. "It really exceeds what the EPA normally thinks about in terms of energy consumption," King said. "I think IBM should be congratulated with moving forward, but at the end of the day, they will be the first, not the last."

John Fowler, Suns executive vice president of systems, said energy efficiency will continue to be key to his companys efforts.

"What we are really focused on is improving the [energy-efficient] performance of the system, and that includes the microprocessor design, the power supply, the cooling and everything else," Fowler said in an interview.

"On top of that, theres a lot we do in the operating system as well as some other technology—virtualization is an obvious example of that—but there is power management and other things that we do in order to improve the efficiency of the systems."

Dell CEO Michael Dell twice within two weeks spoke publicly about his companys efforts to be eco-friendly, from reducing the power consumption of its computers to cutting its carbon emissions. And it makes business sense, he said.

The OptiPlex 755 consumes $21 in energy per year, compared with a previous-generation product that consumed about $100 a year, Dell said during an address at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Oct. 10 in Orlando, Fla. "The customer saves $79 per year," he said. "Now if we have to spend $6 to engineer that to save $79 per year, is that worth it to us? Absolutely. We can save customers money."


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