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So it shouldn't be a surprise that the senior U.S. Energy Department official takes an interest in the growing appetite of today's computing equipment for electrical power. The computing industry can be a fractious bunch, but there's broad consensus that energy consumption is a problem and performance per watt needs to be improved.
Karsner went into the belly of the beast earlier this month, meeting with high-level representatives of Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems, Advanced Micro Devices, Intel, Microsoft and IBM. Karsner's goal is to learn about the problem and see what his agency can do to help.
Karsner, whose background is in the power industry, sat down with CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland to discuss his field trip.
Q: You had all kinds of Silicon Valley companies here--chip companies, server companies, networking companies, software companies--all gathered here in the same room. What was the objective of the meeting?
Karsner: From my perspective, it was to galvanize this very important industry and their leaders at a very high level to come together and face up to something that is an industry challenge--(not just) in terms of their competitiveness and their growth, but also a national challenge in terms of our security and a global challenge in terms of our environmental well-being. I think they were driven by that level of common purpose.
I am told it's an unprecedented event to get senior leaders of this level from these competitors together. What we hope to do is create a continuous forum to grow a relationship and shape the right kind of public-private partnership, so they can use tools of the federal government that make them stronger in the aggregate than they may be acting individually.
That's interesting--a public-private partnership. What kinds of roles do you envision for the government when addressing this issue?
Karsner: The things I say today will evolve into a greater list. But right off, we talked about standards and best practices being some of the low-hanging fruit.
This would be the government saying how to build stuff so it's efficient?
Karsner: I don't view it so much as government top-down so much as government entering the circle and convening folks who might not otherwise talk to one another--to get them to distill from themselves what are the best practices. There was some argument and exchange about some of those things today, but it was also seen that there was more in common than there was that divided them.
We can employ the analysis and technical assistance in our national laboratories, not just in hardware, but in the efficiency practices themselves. We have decades of experience doing this with (other) industries. But now you are (seeing) the same metrics of per-square-foot energy consumption for data centers that we see for some of America's more conventional industries.