Google to share power efficiency secrets

While Google made a big splash this week over its willingness to share its power efficiency secrets, the online giant actually is wading into a larger industry-wide power saving movement.

The issue is that power usage by PCs and servers historically has not been very efficient on several fronts. Billions of dollars in wasted energy hangs in the balance and that is money that computer users and corporations can take to the bank, experts say.

"I have been around computer energy issues for years and there is a disconnect between those who pay the energy bill and get the benefits of savings and those who have control over equipment that draws the energy," says Kent Dunn, senior program manager for 80Plus. He says IT shops sharing in the savings benefits will provide incentives to move to power efficient machines.

The 80Plus initiative is an electric utility-funded incentive program to integrate more energy-efficient power supplies into desktop computers and servers. Manufacturers that adopt the 80Plus specification get money back from utilities when they sell machines into that utilities region. 80Plus, which has some US$5 million in its coffers, plans to announce its first major manufacturing partner in the coming weeks, Dunn says.

And he says he hopes Google will bring visibility to the issue having proved that energy efficiency is really just a code word for cost savings.

Google estimates that if its internally developed power efficiency technology, which Google uses in its server farms, were deployed in 100 million PCs running for an average of eight hours per day, it would save 40 billion kilowatt-hours over three years, or more than US$5 billion at California's energy rates.

The technology does not force IT to change anything in their environment other than buy power efficient machines during normal upgrades.

Google distinguished engineer Luiz Barroso presented the company's findings and articulated a solution during this week's Intel Developers Forum.

"There are several hard technical problems surrounding power efficiency of computers, but we've found one that is actually not particularly challenging and could have a huge impact on the energy used by home computers and low-end servers: increasing power supply efficiency," Barroso wrote on the Google blog.

The problem today is that power supplies for PCs and servers convert alternating current (AC) from the outlet to direct current (DC) needed by the machine and typically waste 30 percent to 45 percent of their input power, according to a white paper authored by Google engineers Urs Hoelzle and Bill Weihl

Over the years, Google has developed power supplies that run at 90 percent efficiency.

"We're sharing a [power supply] design that saves energy and we're hoping the industry can move to adopt something similar as a standard," says Google spokesman Barry Schnitt.

The current problems lie in outdated power designs for computers.

When PCs were first introduced, power supplies provide multiple voltages to satisfy the needs of the PC's internal chip. With modern day machines, that is no longer the case and Google is now proposing a PC standard, which it already uses in the servers it builds for its server farm, that uses a simple 12-volt power supply and other voltages needed by the machine are handled by motherboard components generated via voltage regulator modules.

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