Thursday, May 15, 2008

Where will the juice come from?

A few years back, I settled on the idea that the next big breakthrough in computing will come in the area of power management. My thought was that the increasing mobility of various devices, coupled with a seemingly non-stop increase in appetite for electricity, was going to create an impasse. Either batteries have to pack more power in their current size and weight dimensions, or devices need to get far more efficient. The Vista bloat is not an encouraging sign, though, and neither was the exploding battery problem from a few years back. To date, the only real progress I've seen is that business travelers seem to be spending more time in the gym than in the past... so that they can lug around the batteries they need.

Needless to say, I haven't seen any breakthroughs. However, the recent and dramatic increase in energy prices may end up being the "necessity" that births the efficiency invention. Data Centers are need a lot of power. And as engineers pack more and more hardware into the same square footage, that demand is sure to increase. The HVAC requirements for today's data center boggle the mind, not to mention the electricity required just to keep the machines running. Some estimates put the change in American datacenters' demand for electricity at somewhere north of 25% annually. Let's just suppose that the true change is only 12%. That still means we're looking at double the electricity requirements in 6 years.

Where will this power come from?
Given that it takes decades (not years) to get a new power plant up, we're faced with relatively fixed supply.... and we're faced with increasing demand. If you were awake for your supply & demand curve lectures in MacroEconomics, then you know that the current rise in energy prices is just the beginning.

The opportunity is ripe for the hardware manufacturer firm who can bring to market servers and PC's that run cooler and draw less power than today's standard machines. The consumer market will pick up on this soon enough, but it's the CIOs who have to drive this innovation. The CFOs will start to notice their utility bills, and will demand solutions from IT.

And for a simple money-saving tip you can put into practice without a new PC, schedule all your desktop updates for 7pm local time and shut them down overnight. Any firm with a decent number of PC's (say 500+) is likely to see a material change in their energy costs.

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