09 August 2011
Power efficiency is at the top of the agenda, no matter what you’re designing
Gone are the days when energy consumption was the last thing on a designer's mind. Whether a device plugged into the wall or ran from batteries, the cost of powering it was not a major consideration; if it was considered at all.
But that's all changed; even before the cost of electricity started to ratchet up alarmingly, attention was focusing on environmental issues. This focus coincided with the boom in popularity in the late 1990s of the laptop computer. It was suggested that, by making a laptop even a few percent more efficient, a generating station could be shut down. Now, greenhouse gas emissions are at the top of the agenda.
Designers of battery powered devices, meanwhile, have been pushed to provide users with more functionality, while increasing the time between battery charges. As evidenced by a range of consumer devices, this challenge has been taken up with a passion.
Now, it seems, the target is the data centre. There's very few of us not impacted by the data centre; if you use social networks, buy books off the internet or use 'the cloud', your transactions will be handled by data centres.
Typically huge, they not only consume vast amounts of power, but also generate large amounts of heat, which needs further power to remove it. Facebook's Prineville data centre is an example of the new mentality. Designed from the start with energy efficiency in mind, the centre appears to be significantly more efficient than other such centres.
Facebook should be congratulated, not only for its attempt to make its Prineville data centre as 'green' as possible, but also for making the specifications available to an industry which, in the US alone, consumes 3% of all electrical power generated.