Energy Efficient Computing

The world is becoming ever more computerised, with processing power still growing in line with Moore’s Law (doubling every two years). The size of datasets seems to be growing at a comparable speed! This means that the power load of many premises is soaring. Digital devices and systems – big and small, complex and simple – are already responsible for a significant proportion of the electricity consumption of developed economies and are set to grow. Cloud computing data centres are growing in number: they already account for 2% of global energy consumption and this is projected to more than double within the decade. Yet the capability to crunch increasing quantities of Big Data is a fundamental ingredient for success in sectors such as Bioscience, Health and Finance.

Providing the power for tomorrow’s computerised society is going to be a major challenge, especially in the context of all the other demands for power, set against the environmental pressure to reduce overall emissions. It should not be forgotten that the biggest computing systems often place significant additional loads on the air conditioning systems in buildings – adding to overall energy demand.

Electronics and computing systems were traditionally developed with the emphasis on performance. In the last decade, UK based companies such as ARM have led the world in designing low power processors. However, there has only been limited optimisation of power and energy consumption of complete systems (hardware, operating systems and applications software together).

The creation of more energy-efficient systems will require innovation in hardware systems combined with a new approach to software development which considers how to write energy efficient programs. Consumers will welcome extended battery life through more efficient software and systems in handheld devices, and businesses across many key sectors will be attracted to affordable high performance computing (to do virtual modelling and simulation for example).

Is it possible to address both performance and efficiency in the same development process? That is the challenge the Technology Strategy Board has set for the ICT industry. Our ICT industry is world-leading so if the problem can be solved, then surely it can be solved here? A few months ago, the TSB, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) launched a £1.25m competition for feasibility and demonstrator projects in this area, in order to show just what can be achieved.

It is clearly ‘early days’ for Energy Efficient Computing (EEC) from a software and therefore systems perspective, even though the UK is home to market leaders like ARM and Infineon in hardware. Still, that is a sign of the potential that already exists in this country, even if EEC is not fully established. It has to be said that this represents a real opportunity for the UK as it is very much an emerging industry evolving from a range of different technologies.

The competition focussed on devices and software. In the assessment of bids, priority was given to demonstration projects able to showcase prototypes that contribute towards energy consumption measurement, since if you can’t measure something it is very difficult to do something about it.  After careful evaluation, nine projects have been selected for funding.

The range of technologies is wide: from compilers through large-scale network storage systems to new logic systems. The projects will be undertaken by specialist SMEs based across the country, some in collaboration with universities.

There is real potential for the UK to take a lead in this field. There is a market already there with end-users looking to reduce their energy bills and infrastructure providers looking for ways of reducing power loading. The nine winning consortia have identified some very diverse ways of tackling aspects of this issue. Innovation will be the key to solving the challenge.

 

Last updated on Thursday 21 February 2013 at 10:27

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