November 14, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Perspective: Scott McNealy's eco-friendly challengeSee all Perspectives
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First, the good news: The number of people online is expected to grow by 500 million in just two years.
Now the bad: See above.
Why is that bad? Only because, in most cases, computers on both ends of the network use--and waste--huge amounts of electricity.
It doesn't have to be that way. Not if companies that use computers (and what company doesn't?) adopt sustainable growth strategies.
Using technologies already on the market, companies can dramatically reduce energy consumption while sustaining--and even dramatically increasing--the capabilities of their information systems.
Perhaps the best place to start is in the company data center--often a not-so-miniature metropolis of server computers that process network transactions.
None of them carry the Energy Star label, by the way, because there's still no such thing for servers. There certainly should be, though. After all, a good server is always on, unlike your washer and dryer. (Note to Bush administration: Let's talk.)
On the other hand, I'm fond of pointing out that the latest servers from Sun Microsystems, where I'm the CEO, use one-third the power of competitors' systems while getting 50 percent more work done. They even cost about half as much. (To put that in perspective, think about a car using 66 percent less gas. Never mind going faster and costing less.)
Thanks to hefty investments in R&D, even bigger gains are right around the corner. In the next batch of servers we introduce, each processor will be able to take on 32 tasks at once--all while using about the same energy (roughly 70 watts) as the average lightbulb.
So I'd like to issue an eco-friendly challenge to anyone who thinks they can match that. The big winner will be the planet. But let's not limit the challenge to servers. Significant energy savings can also be had on the other end of the network.
Consider the typical office PC. It uses about 300 watts of electricity and pumps out about 850 British thermal units, or BTUs, of heat. It's not really an efficient space heater, though, and in warm weather it makes your AC work overtime.
The alternative? A simple desktop appliance, also known as a thin client, that doesn't have a microprocessor, disk drive or cooling fan and uses just 15 watts of electricity--24 counting the server it's connected to.
Using a desktop appliance is indistinguishable from using a PC. Thanks to high-speed networks, the server delivers all the same functions, from spreadsheet to Web browser and everything in between, instantly. But when this low-power device isn't being used, the resources on the server go to other tasks instead of going to waste.
At Sun, this computing paradigm has reduced our power consumption by nearly nine times and raw-materials consumption by 150 times while saving us $25 million in energy and systems cost last year alone.
So I'd like to challenge companies everywhere to take a closer look at energy consumption, because the person who buys the computers typically doesn't pay the electric bill.
That's a huge disconnect. Energy prices have been rising steadily over the past 10 years, and the damage Hurricane Katrina did to our infrastructure is pushing them dramatically higher--not just for oil and gas, but for electricity. (Many power plants are fueled by gas, after all.) So if the chief information officer isn't calculating the cost of electricity into his purchasing decisions, the company may as well be burning money.
The answer is innovation. We can do more with less, and, over the next two years, welcome 500 million new network users into a new age in which everyone can participate.
Scott McNealy is chief executive of Sun Microsystems.
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