Thought for the day: IT will need a power boost

We may have the technology, but what will happen if we don't have the electricity to run it? It's time to put more effort into...

We may have the technology, but what will happen if we don't have the energy to run it? It's time to put more effort into finding alternative resources, warns Maldwyn Palmer.




In the race to produce faster and feature-enriched technology one thing is being overlooked. Unless manufacturers are incorporating coal or wood-burning power sources, they may find their gadget lying cold and dead on the floor.

The spectre of a Britain without energy has already galvanised the government into approaching alternative power companies to start building wind-powered generators. Some might complain that windmills are not the ideal first choice and, perhaps, more efficient methods such as wave power have been put on the back burner – so to speak.

 Whatever comes on stream - and some are even mentioning the dreaded N-word again - it will have to produce a lot of electricity to compensate for the lack of gas and oil.

The proposed pipeline from Russia to our shores will have to travel through a lot of suspected terrorist strongholds, and stationing a trooper every three metres is not an option.

The French have a surplus of electricity from their nuclear programme and pipe it to our south coast at present. Guess who will not be top of their provider list when they have their own shortages?

 A two-pronged solution must be actioned very quickly to reduce our consumption and to devise a sustainable energy production plan. They have both been discussed for years but now the gloves are off.

If this worst-case scenario becomes reality and whole regions or sectors are shut down regularly, then how will that affect the IT industry? Perhaps the more astute players will entwine their systems with national strategic institutions.

A server farm supplying a hospital, for instance, might just have the same servers running an internet company. Necessity is the mother of invention. The web backbone infrastructure is an important relates directly to modern businesses running around the clock.

The reduction of power could be regional so that London would go dark on, say, Monday to Wednesday, and Wales, Thursday to Saturday. If this were so, then a quick backup system would have to be developed by companies working round the clock.

Most probably need at least two identical structures to support live and back-up facilities, and would have to be mirrored in London and Wales so that at least one outfit was running. This would obviously be "cheating" as the power output of the country would not be reduced but merely repositioned.

It would be very interesting for the government to release its contingency plans for such an event, but it would be unlikely as it may lead to controversy. It could be similar in approach to the "protect and survive" policy for nuclear attack where inhabitants were told to hide under a door. Actually that may be their latest approach – in case of power blackouts, hide under a door.

The actual power consumption of a home computer is quite small, but industrial use has accelerated sharply since the 1980s and business computers are, by their nature, very vulnerable to lack of electricity. Advanced warning would allow machines to be closed down gracefully but starting them up again is always an anxious moment.

It would be an interesting exercise to see if the large technological and software companies have given any thought to the day when clicking the switch does not boot the machine. The idea that a world with limited energy could, one day, be a reality may not have entered their heads. Let us hope they are right. 

What's your view?
Does your disaster recovery plan take an energy crisis into consideration? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Maldwyn Palmer
was one of the first people to use the C programming language in the UK. He wrote the original mobile phone texting software for Orange and ran his own consultancy during the dotcom boom. He now writes technical articles and humorous books.

Read more on IT strategy