Home Earth Hour: Is it Time to Virtualize the Electrical Grid?

Earth Hour: Is it Time to Virtualize the Electrical Grid?

Another Earth Hour has passed by this weekend. Electrical systems across the globe were shut down to observe, for an hour, that energy is precious. In this moment, we also acknowledge that as humanity, we have the power to do better for ourselves. One great thing about Earth Hour is the photos. If you haven’t yet, check out the brilliant photo essay at Boston.com on Earth Hour 2010.

If you haven’t taken initiative to shut down your computer yet, read on to get a refresher on how better computing resource utilization creates a better world.

Earth Hour Translates to Megahertz

The link to energy and efficiency is clearly evident in the data center. Where electricity is bundled in time units, processing is calculated in megahertz.

We can see how important the work is at Intel and others (AMD, IBM, Apple) to get higher processing per energy consumption at the core.

In the data center, applications and processes drive resources, as well as flows of traffic from users. In a way solving the challenge of energy efficient data centers is where information management and physics collide.

Higher utilization is the promise of server virtualization. However, like in many things, scaling up is harder than scaling down. The tricky part is the linkages across the network, storage. These configurations are where further opportunity exists to abstract the workload, infrastructure, and energy to orchestrate a flow of resources that turn off and on when needed. In this way, we wonder, will find ways to connect energy consumption to workload – and cost.

Is Energy Social?

We see a time in the future where personal computing is a utility, and the plug knows who we are. With smart homes, mobile computing, and personal health records, it has to be so.

One thing that struck a note with us about Earth Hour is how easy it is to do locally. All you do is turn off the switch.

In California, there is a very lively discussion on automated, or “smart” meters from the default electrical company, PGE. See (some) of the dialog on PGE’s smart meter site on Facebook.

On one hand, having computerized meters gives the needed management to observe consumption in real-time and optimize the grid.

On the other hand for many users, this type of oversight needs to be tied to consumer privacy and pricing.

As shown with Earth Hour, there is an important social component and to giving back to the world, not just the shareholders. People question the intentions of a monopoly and as people we seem to get a better win with a simple, “Turn it Off” where we get a chance to contribute by ourselves.

For us, Earth Hour represents people rallying for the future.

Around the world, from Sidney to Singapore, Buenos Aires to Boston people are doing it because we are a people – not to support the systems.

Here’s to hoping that someday we can all check in to Earth Hour in a way that turns off our gear, lights, and grids – if only for a moment.

Location Matters. Huddling Up to Where its Warm

Oregon’s has a lot of natural resources. From salmon, honey, and redwoods, to mobile technology, the state is blossoming like spring.

One interesting trend are the massive data centers popping up out of the ground (like Facebook and Google) that have been placed close to energy resources.

In several small towns in Oregon, modern high-density computing environments are being deployed next to the oldest technology for generating power, the dam.

These services show that tariff’s and pricing do matter when it comes to energy and how it converts to the bottom line to the leaders in cloud computing.

Computing Matters: A Few Green Guides Resources to Consider

Intel: Seeing the Sensitivity of Server Refresh is an Intel internal review of ROI of pulling in newest versions of server technology and doing technology refreshes. Density does matter.

VMware: This energy efficiency analysis walks us though the concepts of energy efficiency by pooling servers as virtual resources. The Gartner quote below us how serious energy is ties to computing costs.

“Gartner estimates that over the next 5 years, most enterprise data centers will spend as much on energy (power and cooling) as they do on hardware infrastructure.”

Even if all of the technology was free, energy would still a very significant expense in running a data center operation.

VMware also shows that energy saving can be viral, or can expand into other areas of the corporate environment.

Earth Hour is a Question, Not an Answer

One of the best aspects of Earth Hour is that we know it won’t work for the real-time web. We aren’t ready to shut down the Internet, or data center. Instead, as technology leaders, we may be able to design systems that react and become more efficient. With time, perhaps the Internet at large will “go dark” for an hour or so per year in celebration.

For us, Earth hour was a trigger to consider the impacts of energy and look at it as a system, instead of a free resource.

We compiled a few questions for enterprise managers considering how to tie global movement and questions into the day job:

  • Earth Hour has a .9% difference in the electrical grid in some areas. We know virtualization offers more. What number are you using in your enterprise for virtualization energy savings?
  • How long will it take for electrical grids and computing grids merge? Will it happen in our lifetime?
  • Would your company be able to take down your network down for an hour with the flip of a switch? What part of the infrastructure would you be the most concerned about?
  • How high of a priority is it for your organization to reduce it’s energy footprint?

Photo credits: demorganna & xshamx

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