CIOs can expect their energy use to become much more visible to company boards and governments, especially as they build vast data centres to host cloud applications.
Andy Hopper, head of Cambridge University’s Computer Lab, is leading a multiyear exploration of computing for the future. One of the project’s main aims is to find practical solutions to the energy problems that face CIOs, indeed all consumers of digital bits.
Computer Weekly senior reporter Ian Grant went to Cambridge to speak to Hopper about the future of cheap clean green energy, increasing regulatory pressure to be clean and green, and what you can do now to save money in your server farm.
Read the full transcript from this video below:
Video: How green will my server farm be?
Ian Grant: Tell me about the project that you got for the
future of computing and the planet.
Andrew Hopper: For some time we have been considering
what the intersection between sustainability and computing
might be, and at first we thought nothing, but actually, on
further reflection and careful consideration over the last five
or six years, we have decided that there are several things
which may be of use to ensuring the sustainability of the planet,
which computing can bring.
Ian Grant: I want to know just how close are you to realizing some
commercial aspects of those?
Andrew Hopper: This is hard to answer, because the premise is
that we will change the way we lead our lives as a result of using
computer technologies in a way which is beneficial to the planet,
or actually to society. However, within this, for example, the use of
renewable energy sources for fueling the digital infrastructures
around the planet is something that probably is on a three or, I
used to think five or six, year time scale. Actually, the notion of
moving computing around the planet to where the cheapest energy
exists today, and to where the most green energy, which is sometimes
the same as the cheapest, sometimes not, exists is not too far away,
so probably on a two or three year time scale.
Ian Grant: Do you not have a regulatory problem with transported
Andrew Hopper: It is a problem and an opportunity, both ways. On the
one hand, it is a problem in the sense of sending jobs around the world
and the legal framework, the jurisdiction within which that work is done,
is an issue and it is really, who knows, there are rules but it is a difficult
area. From a positive point of view, it may be that there are regulations,
they used to have them at first for cars and the fuel efficiency of cars, that
regulations coming for the energy efficiency of computer infrastructure.
It might be that the Government says, "You cannot produce over a certain
size. You have to have 10% or 20% of your digital infrastructure powered
by energy sources which can be used for other purposes.’ That regulation
or framework may be, and will be actually, I think, a substantial business
opportunity in the not too distant future.
As the perspective that computing, one, has a footprint, and two, actually
can be helpful to solving some of the energy use problems becomes
understood, I think that is likely over the next one or two years. If the digital
infrastructures use energy which is so-to-speak, it is not free exactly, but it
can be used for any other purpose. You can fuel the current digital problems,
search or whatever, with that, but actually, you might be able to use that
energy to run algorithms which optimize the use of energy in the real world, so
you might have a win-win. Not only do you get a benefit because you are
complying with some regulation, but you get a double benefit, using of that
energy saves even more energy somewhere else, and they might give you
a tax back or something. I jest, but there is a serious possibility of something
along those lines.
Ian Grant: For CIOs of large companies, and even small companies, how
should they be thinking about this problem now, and what can you offer them
directly at the moment, if anything?
Andrew Hopper: Directly from the University, what I can offer is
information and know-how, so they can read our papers. I hope we
have been influencing policy makers to some extent with our interactions
with policy makers, but this is now becoming a much more mainstream
area. Go to your friendly supplier of software for data centers, ask them
about the Declarative Data Center Control product, or something like that,
see how they are metering and monitoring energy, and see if it gives you
a direct rate of return over some reasonable time scale like one, two,
or three years.
Ian Grant: Andy, thank you very much, indeed.
Andrew Hopper: You are welcome.