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2011 Will Be Green IT’s Proving Ground

Green IT — doing more computing with less energy — has never been hotter. But how much of that heat is hype, and how much is real efficiency in action? The history of Green IT can be summed up as Moore’s Law meets Jevons Paradox, where constant improvements in computing energy efficiency are subsumed by the ever-expanding hunger for ever-cheaper and more powerful computing. What about energy efficiency for its own sake?

As I lay out in my weekly update at GigaOm Pro (subscription required), 2011 could give some long-running green IT assertions a chance to prove themselves. Sheer power capacity restraints — not enough substations per data center — are forcing data centers to constrain energy consumption. That could make 2011 the year for lower-power challengers to Intel’s x86 architecture’s server dominance.

Atom-based servers from SeaMicro and the ARM-based systems from Marvell and startup Smoothstone offer low power use in exchange for slower performance, and Nvidia’s upcoming ARM-based server CPU for integration with its GPUs, could provide a new low-power, high-performance alternative. How quickly these offerings find their way into servers and data centers may help indicate what value the market places on energy efficiency.

Then there’s cloud computing, which could be more energy-efficient as a byproduct of its overall promise to better-manage IT assets. Microsoft says switching to the cloud can shave 30 to 90 percent of the carbon footprint from large to small enterprise computing environments. But when the power used to transport data to and from the cloud becomes large enough, cloud computing can be a net energy loser. I’d be interested in seeing the math behind cloud computing efficiency across more use cases — data-intensive video streaming or storage retrieval, versus simple web hosting and office support type situations. That would give the industry more visibility into just how green their cloud computing plans really are.

Finally, while green data centers are all the rage, office computing environments aren’t investing as much to energy-manage their networked IT environments — even when the technology can pay itself off in less than a year’s time, as startup Verdiem claims, or cut power bills by 20 percent, as Fujitsu promises. More advanced technology, such as from French startup AVOB’s promise to ramp down processor speed and voltage, promises even deeper savings and faster payback. Will corporate IT pick up on the offer?

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Image courtesy of Ramsesoriginal via Creative Commons license.