Embedded Technology Goes Green: Will It Lead the Way?

By Jane Lin-Li, MBA, Associate Editor, Embedded Intel® Solutions

There is plenty of green in the news these days, largely because the 27th annual Earth Day was recently on April 20th, but also because being green really is quite … hip, even for the computing geeks that have anything to do with the data centers.

The Green Grid, a consortium of companies formed to jointly address reducing power consumption in data centers, picked the week leading up to Earth Day to hold its inaugural technical summit. Originally an ad hoc group, the Green Grid made its formal debut in February with a founding slate of eleven members. Today, the group is becoming a major force, as its member roster continues to grow.

The Green Grid began a year ago under the auspices of the Green Grid project as a response to skyrocketing electricity use in computing server rooms—partially a result of the Moore's Law that states computing processing power doubles every 18 months. As microprocessors get faster, generate more heat, and consume more power, data center servers get smaller and more of them get packed into the same floor space. This high-density computing phenomenon causes the higher electricity consumption needed to power the same-sized server rooms. Coupled with increasing energy costs, the traditional data center economic model has shifted to one where the cost of energy is beginning to surpass real estate and IT equipment purchase as its primary expense.

Whether the greenness of these technology companies was born out of the economic pressure to support the sustainable total cost of ownership of data centers or out of altruistic environmental purism is moot. Today, data centers in the U.S. consume up to 3% of all the electricity generated in the country; worldwide, they contributed to $26.1 billion in power and cooling spending in 2005. This massive expenditure is sufficient to warrant the industry's search for energy-conservation solutions, government mandated or not.

The good news is that participants in various parts of the technology value chain around the world have embarked on the mission of being green. Headquartered in Boise, ID, Micron Technology recently unveiled what it calls the industry's first low-voltage, DDR2 DRAM in reduced chip count memory modules. First in Micron's Aspen Memory family of products, the LV DDR2 DRAM is designed specifically to reduce server power consumption. Micron estimates that by implementing its new Aspen Memory module, data centers could save approximately 24% in system memory power consumption. By going green early and using it as a competitive advantage, Micron may just be pushing the technology envelope ahead of its microprocessor brethren.

In China, UniFORCE System has been an early adopter of green technologies. A leading IT infrastructure and business process outsourcing vendor, UniFORCE recently received the Information & Communications Technology Expo 2007 Linux & OSS Best Solution Award for its use of green CPUs and low-energy-consumption kernels to enable green data centers at the enterprise level. "At UniFORCE, we take the `green' movement as a commercially sustainable and continuous corporate strategic direction. That is, we aim at making green technologies a key part of our commercial activities, not just compliance," said Francis Kam, the company's managing director.

And in Europe, with the European Union's more than 35 years of active policies, the environmental protection and conservation mentality continues to reign. This fall, the ICT Forum 2007 taking place in Berlin, Germany, is devoting a section to discussing "The Disappearing Boundaries between Information and Energy Technologies" under the theme of Energy 2.0 and the Next Green Evolution.

Opportunities abound for the Green Grid to have a profound impact as an organization. As our global society becomes ever more Internet-dependent, computer server rooms will continue their upward growth trend, forming a new kind of utility grid to transport the bits and bytes of data. Addressing energy efficiency in the operations of these server rooms will continue to be a universal challenge to the IT community.

In its crusade for member representation from all segments of the data center infrastructure, the Green Grid can address improvements not only at the incremental product level, but at the overall technology process level. The organization can choose to grow organically by defining, developing, and ushering its technical initiatives until they're ready to release to the overall community. Alternatively, it can open up by owning the definition of the key issues and inviting input from the collective knowledge of a wider audience—the global IT community—and extracting the best of its ideas.

True global leadership will come from the group's ability to quickly propagate its agenda on the international stage. Emerging markets such as China, India, and eastern Europe represent fertile ground for innovation, not only because of the size of the available markets, but because of the regions' pressing need to address environmental concerns. The IT industry needs a major force to consolidate its green efforts. Will the Green Grid be that force?

Jane Lin-Li is an Associate Editor for Embedded Intel® Solutions.