% fortune -ae paul murphy

The long green

It may not be obvious to most of us yet, but there's a green revolution on its way into our data centers and onto our desktops.

Now I don't mean one based on global environmental consciousness or the latest mass media insanity - complete with the usual media intolerance for dissent and whipped up mob bellowing for someone else to take both responsibility and action - no, I mean one based on cold hard cash.

For example, I've taken out all the incandescent light bulbs in our new house, putting in compact fluorescent bulbs instead. The space heating, 5% efficient, traditional bulbs are gone in favor of 20% efficient fluorescents, and not only will my lighting bill drop considerably, but I won't be paying to get rid of the heat those things produced either.

That cooling cost reduction is the icing on the data center cake too. Do a google search on data center power and cooling costs and you'll get thousands of hits with an apparent consensus that every dollar spent on input power to racked Xeons forces you to spend another $1.60 or so cooling the building.

That logic applies to home PCs too. Got a bunch of those? - you know, the family file server, an internet server, a couple of desktop PCs? stuff that's too old to use, but too good to throw away? Do yourself a favor, toss it: even Windows doesn't need separate boxes anymore, and Linux can easily run many concurrent services on smaller gear - meaning that switching to something like Ubantu on your most power efficient machine makes good sense -and not in response to some imaginary global warming crisis either, but in response to escalating power costs and the threat of community brownouts.

Power costs are starting to tilt data center decisions too. People are talking about the three year power cost of a Wintel server exceeding its hardware cost - just think about this: for every 100 standard desktop PCs burning 285 watts eight hours a day, five days a week, you usually have at least two dual Xeon servers and disk packs burning 1,250 watts per hour - more or less 24 x 7. That's a total of about 1,360KWH per week. Replace that with a T2000 "coolthreads" server, new disk, and 100 Sun rays with high efficiency LCD monitors, and your power use drops to maybe 450KWH -just about a third of what it was with PCs.

Now you may think you're trapped into those Xeons and desktops because you depend on Microsoft software, but this is less true than it used to be. First of all, Sun Rays now deliver Windows services so you can keep the Xeons and ditch the Pentiums if that's what you want to do. More directly, there's more and more software for both Solaris and Linux -so Exchange, for example, is no longer a Windows anchor.

So what's the bottom line on power cost? Simple, when it comes to global warming the inconvenient truth is that Al Gore won the Vietnam war by himself, then invented the internet, and now wants only to hurt George Bush and boost his own profile - but his opportunism has nothing to do with whether or not cutting your own power costs is good idea. Costs, not politics, make it a good idea: something you can do right now to reduce the value of checks written to third parties - a motivation that doesn't change whether you switch to better lightbulbs at home or better computers in the data center, because this isn't about being seen as green, it's about holding on to the long green: as in cold hard cash.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specialising in Unix and Unix-related management issues.