We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

EmTech@MIT Preview: Greening IT

A special notice from the publisher of Technology Review: as companies wake up to the need for datacenter efficiency, they are faced with a bewildering array of problems.

In September, at EmTech@MIT 2009, the world’s most talented and influential leaders in technology will immerse themselves in the most pressing problems–and greatest opportunities–facing technology today. Over the course of the conference, new connections, new insights, and new friendships will mark the beginning of bold new endeavors. EmTech@MIT brings the ideas of emerging technology to life–and does so through the exploration of the hottest topics in tech today.

Air conditioning units between rows of equipment help improve cooling efficiency in this simulation.

Imagine a mid-sized country populated entirely by computer servers. Ridiculous? Not a bit. Datacenters worldwide already consume as much energy as the whole of the Netherlands. What’s more, these machines are multiplying at a staggering rate. The energy consumed by datacenters in the U.S. accounts for 1.5% of national consumption. If left unchecked, the figure will quadruple by 2020, according to a study released by McKinsey and the Uptime Institute in 2008.

This story is part of our September/October 2009 Issue
See the rest of the issue

Most data centers are terribly wasteful, too. An analysis by the Department of Energy from April 2009 concludes that facilities, on average, convert only 15% of the energy they consume into useful computing and could be made up to 50% more efficient.

Datacenter energy use is a big problem. It’s also a big opportunity.

A panel of business, academic, and government experts will help unravel the challenges and explore the most promising solutions to improving datacenter efficiency at a panel entitled “Greening IT.”

As companies wake up to the need for datacenter efficiency, they are faced with a bewildering array of problems. For one thing, most datacenters have way more capacity than they actually need, because the temptation is always to overprovision in case of failure. This means that up to 30% of datacenters are functionally “dead” at any one time, according to the McKinsey-Uptime report.

The Green Grid, a consortium established in 2007 to promote IT efficiency across the industry, suggests that many companies need to completely rethink capacity, powering down unused equipment and switching to less power-hungry components to save on energy. Wasteful power supply is another common predicament, and cooling, which can account as much as half of all energy use, is perhaps the biggest conundrum of all.

If identifying the most significant problems is tricky, identifying the best, most cost-effective solutions is trickier still. Different kinds of power supply can reduce inefficiencies, but software can also track energy consumption and manage hardware more efficiently. Virtualization software can get more out of servers, but companies that once built or leased their own server farms now have the option to use cloud computing services instead. Cooling can be localized or facilities can be redesigned to make better use of existing technologies. More radical schemes include chilling machines inside giant cooling towers or simply moving data to colder locations when the weather gets too hot.

At EmTech@MIT, big, complicated problems get explored in great depth, and by the kind of people who are hard to get into a room at the same time. The result: ideas that will change the world.

Join us in Cambridge on September 22-24, 2009 for EmTech@MIT.

AI and robotics are changing the future of work.  Learn from the humans leading the way at EmTech Next 2019.

Register now
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.