Friday, April 08, 2011

Should the government be leading on computing energy-efficiency?

As government increasingly digitalises, one of the hidden costs is the increase in electricity use by government computers and servers.

More computers equals more power use, more cost and, ultimately, more strain on electrical generation across Australia.

So a practical way for the government to prompt energy-efficiency, not only for the government itself but across the country, may be to mandate the electrical use of the computing devices and data centres it is willing to buy.

We've been seeing some companies with a large data footprint looking to reduce their power use per device for a number of years now.

Google has led a massive program to reduce power use across the hundreds of thousands of servers it needs to deliver the most popular website in the world. While search is the company's main business, their main cost is power, so it makes good economic sense, as well as good environmental sense, to minimise the power they need. Google unveiled their work several years ago and releases data quarterly on their data centre performance through its Google Data Centers website.

Facebook, which has begun competing with Google for the top global site position, has now come out and made its data centre design open source, freely available for other organisations to use. As discussed in this article from ZDNet, Facebook open sources its server, data center designs: Hardware fallout to follow, the strategy is designed to reduce costs for Facebook, as well as prompt large hardware manufacturers to focus on improving the energy efficiency of their servers.

More information is available at Facebook's new Building Efficient Data Centers with the Open Compute Project page and at OpenCompute. We're not talking small savings here - Facebook reports a 38% reduction in energy use coupled with a 24% reduction in costs in one data centre.

Imagine if government took a leading position on energy-efficiency for computers and data centres. With over 162,000 staff in the Commonwealth public service and around 5,000 websites, there's massive scope to encourage positive structural change in the computing field.

Like Google and Facebook, government's job is not to design the most cost and energy efficient data centres.

However there's potentially massive cost savings and economy-wide efficiencies if we introduce policies which encourage data centres to continually reduce their energy costs.

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