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Tech companies are notoriously power hungry. In fact, since data storage has become increasingly important, energy consumption in massive computer rooms – serving companies from Google to Abercrombie & Fitch – has been rising.

So attendees at Sun Microsystems’ summit in San Francisco last week addressed ways to save energy in data centers and large computer server rooms. The gathering included industry leaders such as Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), as well as representatives from Pacific Gas and Electric Company and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Their goal: to find effective ways to gauge the amount of energy being used and wasted by data centers, and to share technological advances that could help to decrease electricity consumption.

This situation isn’t just a concern for individual companies either. Such a massive use of energy can put a strain on the power grid. Although data centers and server “farms” are relatively small consumers of energy nationwide, there are hotspots – such as Silicon Valley and New York City – where collections of massive servers can drain resources from an already overworked electrical infrastructure.

Because of this, and because energy costs to operate these facilities are rising, companies have started to investigate ways to use less power. Rick Hetherington, distinguished engineer at Sun, explains that in a facility, the processor and memory within each server eat up around half of the power, while the rest goes toward cooling the facility.

Sun and AMD are looking at ways to build more efficient processing units that can complete specific applications quickly, while using the least amount of voltage and producing the smallest amount of heat possible.

Sun uses UltraSPARC architecture that is designed specifically for web-based applications. One of its energy-saving tricks is having one processor can run up to 32 applications, which can consolidate the workload of multiple servers, according to Hetherington. Additionally, he says, the UltraSPARC architecture operates at an energy-saving “clock rate,” which does not require as much power to complete a single task.

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