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An article relating to this blog post on Finextra:

First direct plans computer shutdown to cut emissions and save energy costs

Twenty-four hour virtual bank first direct is to install automated computer shutdown software in an effort to reduce its carbon emissions by 147 tonnes and save £24,000 per year on energy costs.

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Your electricity bill is now due - 7.2 billion dollars

When I worked at SYS - The School of Information Systems (as it was then known) at UEA back in the early 90s, I was told that the funky building we occupied was cleverly designed to take excess heat from the server room and distribute it around the building. It never did quite seem to work, the reason being the servers had got smaller and smaller in size to the point where we had a couple of Sun boxes and a PC or two running Netware.

I was never convinced at all by this explanation as one postgrad lab was positively tropical, the occupants wearing shorts and t-shirts all year around and growing an amazing windowsill full of exotic plants. That was the first time I'd seen a venus fly trap flower. Later on the university used a similar idea with their new residences - the heat generated by the students activities being recycled. The mind boggled.

I wonder if this could be part of the answer to the thorny problem of the excess heat produced by computers - capture it and use it. I thought of this when I read the story we ran on First direct's plan to save energy by effectively shutting off unused computers. A computer left switched on around the workplace is a shocking waste of power.

It isn't just the electricity that is being wasted - it's the heat being generated that more often than not means the air conditioning has to work harder during hot spells. PCs are often not as efficient as they could be, with manufacturers in the past opting for cheaper, less efficient power supply designs - and modern chips often need fans to keep them cool.

I sometimes wonder if I need such a fast, fan-cooled, turbo machine - perhaps I do if I'm at home running ProTools or something - but a lot of the time I'm often staring into space wondering what to type next or awaiting inspiration. A fair amount of my time I'm just doing the same things I used to do ten years ago at SYS when I had a much slower machine. I suspect application and OS bloat is responsible for some of the excess power requirement. Maybe I'm just imagining that.

Hopefully developments in data centre server designs to reduce heat emission and power consumption will trickle through to the desktop in time, although there is still no substitute for switching them off when you go home. Unfortunately you can't usually switch off the data centre without making yourself unpopular.

As you might expect, the chip makers are keen to push their technologies in this area and in February we featured research sponsored by AMD which estimated total power consumption for servers.

Here's a snapshot of figures for 2005:

  • total data centre consumption in the US alone 45 billion kWh
  • total utility bills of $2.7billion
  • global utility bills estimated at $7.2 billion

These estimates include all the ancillary equipment such as lighting and cooling.

It's clear that this is worth tackling head on, to reduce costs and of course gain good PR for saving the planet.

The architects for SYS (if it really is true about the heating) were possibly ahead of their time.


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