Remember the new economy? Turned out to be nothing more than a barnacle on the butt of the old economy—painful but probably inevitable. Human progress seems handcuffed to human error. At any given moment, its hard to distinguish vision from delusion.
Unfortunately, the distinction is becoming more urgent because as the time between generations of technologies shrinks, so does the time available for course corrections. This situation may cause errors that do irreparable damage to our economy or social institutions before we detect the mistakes.
Since the dawn of the computer age, competition in the processor market has been driven by a single priority: price/performance ratios. This was not the result of industry shortsightedness. Manufacturers have long realized that power consumption could not be allowed to grow indefinitely at the exponential curve described by Moores Law. Indeed, advances in chip design between 1985 and 2001 did keep increases in power consumption to a multiple of 75 while the number of transistors grew at a multiple of 256.
But thats not good enough. As documented in our Jan. 21 issue, even that rate, were it to continue, would send the economy and environment alike into a meltdown by the end of the decade. Yet, as Intels announcement of the power-sucking Pentium 4 Jan. 7 clearly showed, competition is still defined by megahertz benchmarks.
Why? Because when IT pros, the biggest buyers of computer gear, try to deliver the most bang for the buck, its tempting to measure their bucks in the most advantageous light—simple price/performance ratios isolated from associated costs such as power consumption for air conditioning equipment or ever-expanding demand for facilities space. These items often end up on some other departments bottom line or can easily be rationalized away as unavoidable costs of doing business.
But Californias recent power crisis reminds us that even the digital revolution must live within its means, and utility analysts warn that delivery and distribution problems are only going to get worse. Until informed IT pros fully anticipate this reality, expand their concerns to the entire enterprise and make their revised priorities known to vendors, the microelectronics industries will have little incentive to move forward wisely.
Can high-tech companies stay in the black by going green? Let me know at email@example.com.