You likely know that electricity is my favorite example of a technology that evolved to become a social utility – what started as a luxury for one very wealthy man, became a technology that governments around the world committed to deliver to their citizenry. Why? Because electricity transformed lives and created opportunity.
The same is true for the automobile – to this day, governments across the world subsidize the building of roads to traverse continents, connect markets and create opportunity. No one can doubt the transformative impact of the automobile. (Did you know chauffers originally existed not to drive the car, but to fix it? The original concern over how many chauffers the world could supply was a concern around technical aptitude, not driving skills – not dissimilar to the now debunked fear surrounding a shortage of computer programmers.)
But both inventions, electricity and the internal combustion engine, came at a price.
Power generation littered the world with dams and power plants that exact a toll on the environment and our health. Roads, automobiles and the petrochemical industry have certainly had their fair share of impact on the planet, certainly not all positive.
In all instances, industry, the consuming public and the voting public took this reality to heart. All ultimately said, “Let’s Change This.” People, markets and basic economics kicked into gear to drive transformative change.
As an example, by far the most popular car where I live is the Toyota Prius. Not because people love the design, but because the engine is extremely fuel efficient. And with fuel at $3.99/gallon a few weeks ago in the Bay Area (no joke), fuel efficiency matters. California has some of the strictest fuel efficiency and automotive emission standards anywhere in the world, which makes the Prius even more appealing (you can drive it in the carpool lane, with only one passenger). Boeing’s new Dreamliner and Airbus’s A380 are set to redefine the efficiency – and thus the economics – of air transport. And GE has a booming business in the delivery of low-impact power generation technologies, from wind turbines to extremely efficient jet engines.
What’s going on?
Consumers and voters and shareholders demand efficiency – partly because it’s good for the planet, mostly because it’s great for the bottom line. You can’t dismiss either if you want to build a sustainable, or sustainably competitive business. Consumers want to save money as much as your CFO. Voters want a cleaner world as much as businesses want competitive advantage.
But now think about the IT world. What impact are we having on the world?
On the positive side, clearly the internet (and no, I’m not a big believer in the moniker Web 2.0, but I learned long ago if a parade stands behind you, march) is creating enormous wealth. While driving transparency, social progress and efficiency. No one can possibly doubt the value of connectivity.
On the negative, remember California’s power crisis? Who was partly to blame? The computing industry. We create computers that draw enormous amounts of power, throw off huge amounts of heat, which requires the world to build power plants and install power hungry air conditioners. Here’s a little known fact for you: Google’s and Yahoo!’s second largest operating expense – after the people they employ is… electricity. That’s why they’re building datacenters next to smelting plants. Seriously. Read this.
Three MILLION people a week are joining the internet. If each gets a Dell PC, consuming 200 watts, that’s 10-20 GIGAwatts of new power draw and a massive impact on the planet. If we’re serious about creating technologies developing companies and economies can afford, something has to change.
And now you know the motivation behind Sun’s Niagara and Galaxy systems. Both will run whatever OS comes along – Solaris, Linux, *BSD or (in the case of Galaxy) Windows. Both will deliver extraordinary price/performance against their peers. And both will reset the industry to think about space, power and management efficiency (and a comprehensive benchmark we call “SWaP.”
And both bet on a simple premise. Over my lifetime, I will consume roughly three times the power my parents consumed – and they, roughly three times their parents. As that trend continues, energy efficiency will become a competitive advantage for Sun (alongside Toyota, Boeing and GE) – and an environmental imperative for governments and voters. You may not care about it in your den, but multiply your den by three million, and I guarantee you, there’s a lot to care about. Whether you’re in rural Minnesota, or rural India.
Ask anyone who works in a datacenter – space, heat, and power are incredibly important. If your datacenter’s in center city London (some of the most expensive real estate in the world), the fact that Niagara and Galaxy are miniature by comparison to their peers, is a huge advantage. That they sip power is another (5 times less power draw than Intel’s Xeon, or IBM’s appropriately named POWER5+). That they blow away their competition on nearly every benchmark we can find is icing on the cake. So why not just rest on having the hottest/coolest boxes in town?
To steal a quote, no one at Sun wants us to be just a great company with great technology. We also want Sun to be a good company – we believe we can change the planet. And we believe decision makers across the world, from voters to developers, legislators to CFO’s are beginning to say, “something has to change.” May we be the first among many, to respond…