Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Everyday Energy Savings: Powered by IT

Many of our everyday activities use energy: the google searches we make, the cars we drive, the flights we take, almost anything that is even remotely connected to the microchip. The good news, however, is that IT advancements can help reduce the carbon footprint of our normal activities. Here’s how:

New IT Infrastructure:
In 2002 when I was doing my Masters in IT, our university had "thin clients" in all labs, which meant that just a few SUN servers could support the work of  around 1000 students. Concentrating all applications on a single server and a single computing resource generates sheer cost savings (not just in terms of hardware and thus e-­waste but also in terms of energy).

As a professional, working on thin clients was not feasible; instead we used "virtual machines." Virtualization uses almost the same ideamaximising the value of a machine. Every time you use your PC or mac, it is more than likely than not that your machine is not using its full capacity, but still consuming significant energy. Virtualization allows a server to run multiple operating systems at the same time. Each of these operating systems can then be provided to developers in a configuration that best suits their needs.

More recently, cloud computing has eliminated the need for companies to own their own servers. Different companies can now take advantage of cost savings by using common infrastructure offered by the cloud provider.

Stop-start technology:
Stop­-start automatically turns off the engine when an electric or hybrid car stops or when clutch is released. This reduces fuel consumption by 5­8%. Although the development of this technology required significant enhancements to the engine and transmission, the important role of engine micro controller can not be discounted. The micro controller detects the velocity of car and the position of the clutch, shutting off the spark and fuel to engine for it to stop, and reversing the process to start the car.

Flying like birds:
The V formation that we normally see in migrating birds is not just because they like to follow each other, the formation actually helps birds conserve energy. We should not be surprised if in future we see airplanes following the same formation on transatlantic or transpacific routes. Initial tests of this approach are now being carried out with Australian flights on transpacific routes. Computers onboard and on land play a critical role in this development by guiding the precise path (direction, altitude and velocity) that each flight in the flock should take.

Faster searching
Without going into the details of Google’s servers, the more the "machine instructions" a program uses, the more processing time is required. The number of machine instructions executed depends on the efficiency of the search algorithm. Every time Google engineers improve this algorithm, our search results show up faster. Ultimately, improved response time means that the same Google server can now handle more search requests, thus reducing the need for new servers.

On our end, a faster response directly relates to time and energy savings. An improvement  as small as 0.01 second per search translates to 125 million seconds of savings per month globally (based on 12.5 billion google searches per month). That is, if all these people were using your computer sequentially, the 0.01 second of improvement would allow you to switch off your computer 3.96 years (125 million seconds) sooner!

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