Future of Green IT

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In the 2 weeks I spent most of my time thinking about Green IT. Time to summarize.

In the recent years the trend towards less energy consuming devices has dramatically changed the IT landscape. The mobile phone sector and single-board computers are taking over. Right now, the tendency is to produce more efficient processors and general computing technologies. This all goes hand in hand with the renewable energy debate and more advanced energy storage technologies.

For my vacation this year I was lucky enough to be given a teaching spot for a summer academy of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes. Here I co-organized a study group with the topic of "Energy-Efficient Computing". This group discussed a wide variety of topics living in areas such IoT devices or supercomputers. The topics therefore went from a general introduction to wireless and wire-bound network technologies over to software optimization and efficient methods of cooling.

The atmosphere in the study group was excellent and I think it is fair to say that everyone did a fantastic job on delivering an insightful talk. One of the problems with this kind of study group was the huge diversity of background. People with an almost professional IT background have been joined by people with barely any knowledge at all. Nevertheless, having highly talented students also means that the group will take care of this problem itself. So we only adjusted the presented content slightly, and everyone was - more or less - able to follow smoothly. Finding the middle way is never easy, but seems to be achieved this time.

Will the trend of Green IT hold on or is it just a temporary trend? I think we just cannot go back to waste energy in this area. Therefore, I see this trend as being stable, potentially even increasing. The efficiency in data centers as well as in smaller sensors and computing devices has to increase even further. If 50 or more billion devices are connected to the Internet we will certainly be in trouble. The data centers to combine all the information are neither economic nor ecological. For his or her smart home nobody wants to exchange batteries of some sensors once per month.

How can we do better than today? For starters, there are many desktop and mobile computers that require too many resources. The future will potentially see a mobile phone (true personal computer) that can simply be used like a desktop machine. This will be a new era for bring your own device. Furthermore, special kind of frames transform them into notebooks when needed. The continuum project from Microsoft is a first indicator of this new direction, however, still lacking important aspects.

Of course, such phones will still be inferior in computing power. They will be better than today, however, not as good as they need to be. Hence the cloud computing will also gain private importance. The nice thing is that I can now truly have a machine that is accessible everywhere - without physically having this machine. Wonderful! Only if the Internet would be faster...

This brings me to my last point: The Internet infrastructure is currently sucking too much energy. The power consumption of the average data center is too high - especially measured in efficiency. In the future novel concepts and larger data centers (combined with the formerly mentioned cloud computing infrastructure, which reuses unused computing cycles) will hopefully lead to a greater efficiency. With the change to IPv6 a lot of old (and energy hungry) hardware components should be exchanged.

So will we be able to power our own home with a few solar cells or via the energy solely stored in the smart grid? I think so - the currently available single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi bring quad-cores plus BTLE and WiFi to the table with a power requirement of just 2W. Wonderful!

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