IBM, DARPA team on low-power computing

IBM is teaming with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) research arm to study methods of reducing the power consumption of computing devices, the organizations announced Wednesday.

The DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will contribute $2 million toward IBM's Low Power Center, a 10-month-old initiative based at IBM's Austin, Texas, research lab. IBM's agreement with DARPA calls for it to develop technology for increasing the reliability and energy efficiency of high-end computing systems. Defense contractor BAE Systems PLC plans to create prototypes in 2003 for testing some military applications of the research.

IBM also intends to internally use the power-conserving products it devises, and to develop design-analysis tools for estimating and analyzing the power consumption and performance of systems utilizing PowerPC processors.

As computing technology has advanced to allow systems of ever-increasing processing capacity, the power required to run and cool those systems has also ballooned. A 1994 Department of Energy study found that 10 percent of the energy consumed in North America goes to supporting IT systems, according to IBM. Such power demands also eat up a significant chunk of corporate data center budgets, the company said.

By studying low-power computing, including both hardware and software aspects of the problem, IBM hopes to develop more energy-efficient products. Research from the Low Power Center has already been used in designing IBM's 405LP PowerPC chip, planned for production later this year and intended for use in devices such as handhelds, and in a prototype of its Super Dense Server, an ongoing research project aimed at dramatically improving high-end enterprise server technology.

The new IBM initiative falls within DARPA's 3-year-old Power Aware Computing/Communication (PACC) project, aimed at developing technology to minimize the power needed to complete a given task. Power limitations currently constrain such undertakings as missile and satellite missions, according to DARPA. PACC's goal is to reduce that obstacle, facilitating cost reductions and new capabilities.

DARPA, best known as the agency that funded early Internet development, has worked with IBM on various projects throughout the past several decades, including research on parallel computing, security, cognitive computer systems and advanced computer architecture.

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