Tom Henderson: Don' t NOC It, Till You've Tried IT

The GreenIT initiative at CeBIT is centralized in a small area of

CeBIT's Future Park (Building 9), and while the displays aren't

enormously awesome, the scuttlebutt was amazing. While hardware and OS

vendors attempt to find the right trade-offs in power-saving

architectures, there's apparently a lot that can thwart even some of

the best green features.

Whether desktop or server, a lot of the hardware-possible savings

relates to how much the OS and its apps can allow the platform to do

orderly shutdowns of specific functions that use power. CPUs, whether

from Intel or AMD or VIA have advanced power savings modes that are

becoming increasingly flexible as newer generation designs are built

with 'green in mind'. It turns out that even the best power savings

modes can be easily thwarted by both OS modes, applications, and lack

of OS drivers that support the savings functionalities. Even subtle

savings can be lost, apparently.

None of the people I talked to wanted to be directly quoted. Yet all

of them rolled their eyes with miscellaneous stories regarding some of

their best-laid plans dashed against the wall of the unexpected. I

listened to one tale about how most of the VM hypervisor software in

the marketplace essentially subverts and shuts off CPU power savings

modes. The apparent rationale is that CPU allocations need to be

tossed off to guest hosts that sit atop VM hypervisor kernels. The

handoffs wake up the CPUs, or just prevent them from going into a

power-savings sleep mode.

And even if there's not a VM kernel running things in a server,

there's a large problem (especially, it seems in FOSS code) where

applications use low-priority routines to do various maintenance tasks

(flush cache, scratch noses) that keep the CPUs alive as well. There's

just no 'quiet' time in the code, causing the CPU and chipsets to run

at full clip essentially 100% of the time. This means that all of the

green 'goo' inside of various CPUs becomes essentially worthless in

terms of the ability to actually save power.

High-end gaming PC vendor has built an entire line of desktop

motherboards that have strenuously applied green savings, even for the

overclocker crowds. There's a power meter that shows when you're

actually savings money by toggling one of several different power

savings modes. The savings are available for Windows XP and Vista, but

when I asked about Linux in its various flavors, there was hardly any

information available about drivers or compatibility modes that might

make a difference for say, an Ubuntu user.

It's Not Easy Being Green

All the reps that I talked to seemed to agree that green attitude

adoption seems to be a direct function of how much the wallet gets

hurt by ever-rising energy costs. This effect's probably nicely

demonstrated by the Danes, who pay 25 euro cents per kilowatt hour,

among the highest in Europe. For those of you that like to be blinded

by reality, that's 37.5 US cents per KW-- and Californians and many

Texans know the feeling of that pain. The motivation then is

apparently an often knee-jerk cost-control set of draconian measure,

followed by what might have been needed all along: planning and

investigation. Funny how that works.

GreenIT philosophies also extend to other industry segments, including

cooling, air flow, and even air filtration. Dogmatic greens also cite

that even apparel has an effect on quality. Perhaps that's the

rational behind the T-Shirt I saw with 'Climate Neutral Cotton

Apparel' slogan on it. Oddly, perhaps amazingly, the number of UPS and

datacenter power management companies represented in the GreenIT

center, and its constituent sponsors located across the 24 buildings

of the CeBIT fair, were sparce-- the big names are missing. Perhaps

it's like the old adage about buying a Rolls Royce. If you have to ask

the MPG, can't afford it.