The Real Ecology of Computing


Last Friday was Java day for Sun – Happy 10th Birthday to the Java platform! And to the whole team, those at Sun, those no longer, and those with our partners and customers: Thank You. You’ve changed the world. And it keeps on changing. The market’s tipped, there’s no going back. The world is participating in a fundamental (and fundamentally entertaining) way.


Friday was also Earth Day. And reading some of the Earth Day PR coming from the big PC companies got me to thinking about how wasteful our industry is. Most of the PC companies made announcements last week that made it easier to throw computers away. And not like I’m going to go inhabit a tree anytime soon, but surely what we should be doing is figuring out ways to stop throwing PC’s away. And stop the waste more broadly, vs. making the waste more palatable. We are among the most wasteful industry on the planet. Want proof?


The average utilization in a datacenter is 15% (what we see is tyipcally lower, but we like to be polite). That implies some 80% of the capital that goes to purchasing computers, 80% of the real estate, and best of all, 80% of the electricity to power and cool the unused systems – is flat out wasted. Greenpeace, where are you? Want to know how to solve at least the tech industry’s contribution to the power crisis? Some ideas:


Display over IP. DOIP (“Do IP”) is to the PC industry, what VOIP (voice over IP, simplistically, using the internet to make phone calls) is to the telecommunications industry. Phone calls are near to free at this point, and the business model is undergoing radical change. It’s inevitable that pervasive and sufficient bandwidth will allow most of what happens on a client to migrate to the network. Why upgrade your PC if you can rely on plentiful bandwidth to have someone centrally deliver it as a service? You don’t upgrade your TV set, BBC and News Corp do it for you every evening with fresh content. And you don’t buy a new TV to watch it. The same should apply to your PC. DOIP is to a PC as XMRadio is to a CD player.


Sun’s entry into the DOIP race is called a SunRay. Its primary value? It’s a PC you never, ever upgrade. Whose intelligence is located in someone else’s datacenter. With a beautiful monitor secured with a SIM card (just like the one in your cell phone). No, it’s not perfect for all applications – SunRay’s only work where Google works (ie, where there’s a reasonable network connection). But I wouldn’t bet against ubiquitous network coverage. Even on an airplane.


Now why use a SunRay (or other DOIP device)? A Sun Ray uses 15 Watts. Fifteen. Compared to 120+ Watts for your basic PC. Multiply saving a minimum 100 watts per office (plus the savings of not having to cool the offices from the heat dissipated by the PC), and at 15 cents per kilowatt hour, that’s minimum $1.5 million dollars a year in savings for 10,000 employees. Free money, and you’re saving the planet. And real estate. And noise (the SunRay’s completely silent.) And a side benefit? You can’t steal the data on them – they’re completely stateless.


Next on the list?

Logical Partitioning, also known as LPAR’s. I ask CIO’s all the time, “how well utilized are your mainframes vs. other systems?” The answer’s always the same, “they’re so expensive, we try to get every last ounce out of them.” Why are they more highly utilized? LPAR’s, the virtualization technology that allows a mainframe to behave like lots of littler mainframes. Which is why we added containers to Solaris 10 and our storage and networking platforms. Like logical partitioning on a mainframe, containers drive utilization up by enabling a big (or small) IT asset to be divided up into lots of independently secured assets. As utilization goes up, relative power and space (and absolute dollar) consumption declines. Which is to say, if you’re really serious about greening the planet, use technology to solve the utilization problem and stop wasting so much energy. And space. And money. Did I mention Solaris is free for download and use? On any computer?


(And for the analysts who quip, “but won’t higher utilization mean people will buy fewer computers?” Funny, when we build ’em twice as fast, people don’t buy half as many… same applies to utilization. Two times the utilization is two times as useful.)


And finally, chip multi-threading. Check out Dell’s latest 6850 gas guzzler with 1470W (!) power supplies – wow. That’ll dim the lights. Surely someone ought to be working on way more performance, with way less power required. I know our customers would love that. Here’s a quote from an account summary I was reading over the weekend:

[Customer Name Withheld]’s team met with lead developers from various business units about two weeks ago. BU’s have been warned that CPU speeds will no longer increase and will likely be lower in the future due to thermal limitations. Therefore, [Exec Name Withheld] has put educational and code review processes in place to assist developers in writing threaded code.



Seems like a massively threaded, lower power systems lineup would be just what the doctor ordered. The next wave of computing won’t be just about fast math. It’ll be all about the economies of scale, whether motivated by financial or environmental responsibility. Seems like a safe bet, even when it’s not Earth Day.


Maybe it’s time we called Greenpeace.

1 Comment

Filed under General

One response to “The Real Ecology of Computing

  1. David Wessels

    Would like to chat regarding Sun Ray – is there some way I can do so that is not in the public forum?

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