McNealy puts energy on the table

Sun Microsystems Inc. is urging its technology counterparts to consume less energy and cut costs for customers through eco-friendly product design and sustainable computing as part of a new initiative announced Monday.

Called the eco-responsibility initiative, Sun made the announcement at its Summit on 21st Century Eco-Responsibility, which brought together businesses, academia and environmental groups to discuss pressing environmental issues like greenhouse gas emissions. Citing Bill Gates’s common refrain, “A PC in every home and in every office,” Sun CEO Scott McNealy reiterated Sun’s mantra in contrast to one of his company’s rivals.

“Our vision has never been a personal space heater on everybody’s lap in everybody’s office,” McNealy said in a teleconference. “That’s somebody else’s. The network is the computer.”

Continuing on the network is the computer theme, Sun executive vice-president and chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulos said the IT industry needs to wrap its collective head around network technology and what it means to communities and workplaces.

“There’s the big trend of everything getting connected to network,” said Papadopoulos. “As we begin to build in those relationships that are there for business reasons, we may be able to understand what the lifecycle is.”

In conjunction with Monday’s announcement, Sun also unveiled the name of its newest processor called UltraSparc T1 (code-named “Niagara”). Sun plans to announce the debut of the chip in its new line of servers called SunFire x64, which were announced in September, early next month at a launch in New York City. SunFire x64 servers are one quarter of the size, half the cost, 50 to 60 per cent faster than competing products and use one third of the energy, said McNealy.

UltraSparc T1 uses less than half the energy of Intel Xeon or IBM Power processors at 70 watts compared to around 150 watts, according to Sun. In addition to saving customers millions of dollars in energy savings, the reduction in power consumption also cuts down on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere, the company said.

“We have to take responsibility to look at the most cost and energy efficient technologies,” said McNealy, adding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that an idling PC uses $100 annually in wasted power compared to when they’re in use.

McNealy said one of the ways in which Sun is stepping up is though its participation in the larger community of users, developers and environmental agencies. With that in mind, Monday’s announcements were framed by panel discussion of experts.

One of the first areas of discussion to be addressed was the data centre, which McNealy identified as the most significant user of energy in an enterprise today.

Panelist Jonathan Koomey, consulting professor, civil and environmental engineering, Stanford University said pricing structures for data centres need to change to cut down on businesses’ energy consumption.

“People are paying per square foot and not per kilowatt,” said Koomey. “Because of that, people are shoving all equipment they can in one spot. Having a per kilowatt charge would make it different.”

Pricing structures aside, the more difficult question is how to change the ways in which people view energy in a country where the government won’t even sign on to international climate change agreements like the Kyoto Accord. But regulation isn’t the answer to everything, said panelist Christine Ervin, former president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, a coalition representing nearly 5,000 companies and organizational members and 50 staff. Ervin said there needs to be a combination of regulation and voluntary market conditions in order to effect change on a massive scale.

“There is no one silver bullet,” said Ervin, who has also served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy. “We have the leaders out there pushing the envelope. It helps to have good price signals that are working throughout the market.”

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