Updated at 2:30 pm EST on 6/4/08
HP today announces new research initiatives aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the technology sector.
This follows months of recent progress in this area, including an announcement by Dell that the company is going carbon neutral and the formation of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. In the latter such industry leaders as Google, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems have joined with the EPA and the World Wildlife Fund with the goal of slashing computer energy use by 90% by 2010.
Now, HP announces that the company's newly redesigned labs will focus sustainability research on three major areas: an industry-leading initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of data centers by 75 percent; efforts to replace copper wiring in servers with laser beams; and tools for measuring and managing the amount of energy used to develop products.
The announcement is good news to all those greens who enjoy surfing sites like the one you're reading, but worry about what impact our long digital footprint might have on the planet. It turns out that the average data center (the backbone of many digital enterprises, including websites) consumes five megawatts (MW) of electricity annually. That's enough to power more than 4,300 U.S. homes for a year.
HP Labs' stated research goals include slashing enough energy at each of these data centers to power 2,580 homes. How will this be accomplished? HP says it will be enlisting a multidisciplinary of team computer scientists, materials experts, physicists, engineers and more to train a laser-like focus on the complete lifecycle of data centers.
Speaking of "lasers," HP Labs also reportedly plans to devote resources to furthering replacement of copper wires with laser beams in server technology. The company isn't the first to note that increased energy efficiency would be one benefit of this change, but it's good to know that more brainpower is being devoted to the task.
HP is also working on a set of tools that can measure, model and manage the environmental impact of complex business processes for customers, from manufacturing to other sectors. The goals are increasing energy efficiency, improving sustainability and decreasing costs (and thus maximizing profits).
Finally, the company also hopes to tap into the power of web 2.0 and cooperation by opening up a "sustainability hub," where experts can meet and share info on green technology and industrial design.
In response to HP's announcement, Dell spokesperson Thomas Aitchison added, "Dell has long believed that the greenest data center is one a customer doesnt have to build." Aitchison says Dell's approach is to take into account the synergy between the hardware, power use, cooling and software within a data center, and to holistically (and simultaneously) work to boost energy efficiency and performance. "Its about helping customers extend the life of and get more out of their existing facilities, instead of ripping and replacing entire infrastructures or building new data centers."
Aitchison also points to Gartner research data indicating that servers and data centers account for only 23% of global carbon dioxide emissions from IT (nearly twice as much results from PCs, including monitors).
Time will tell what real-world results may derive from these various corporate programs. Hopefully, substantial progress will be made, and true green technology innovations will be the result.
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