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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/June 2006 : Frontlines


Where the Sun does Shine
Sun Microsystems is striving to take the pressure off the environment, one network server at a time.

by Jeff Orloff

You can never really understand how much power a network server actually uses until you hear one starting up. The loud whir of the fans mixed with the hum of the hard drives can be equated to a small jet engine. The sound is enough to make any accountant cringe at the thought of kilowatts and hour dials spinning out of control.

Power consumption can add thousands of dollars onto the actual cost of a network infrastructure. Companies in today’s business world no longer run a simple client-server architecture in which computing power is limited to a few machines. In order to be competitive, an individual network may be running Web servers, e-mail servers, data warehouses, applications, media content and a host of other services that can create a drain on any budget.

To attempt to answer the challenge of sustainable computing, server company Sun Microsystems’ David Yen described his company’s blueprint to invest in the greening of the computing industry in a recent posting on Sun’s Boardroom Minutes page. He writes: “Green computing is a mindset that asks how we can satisfy the growing demand for network computing without putting such pressure on the environment. There is an alternative way to design a processor and a system such that we don’t increase demands on the environment, but still provide an increased amount of processing capability to customers to satisfy their business needs. Green computing is not about going out and designing biodegradable packaging for products.”

Sun Microsystems is standing behind Yen’s sentiments with its eco-friendly line of servers. The T1000 and T2000 servers are equipped with Sun’s latest addition to its family of processors, the UltraSPARC T1. A server running an UltraSPARC T1 requires 70 watts of electricity compared to IBM and Intel chips, which require 150-200 watts to complete the same tasks. To use layman’s terms: 70 watts is less energy than most light bulbs consume.

It is very important to note that this reduction in energy use does not lower the UltraSPARC T1’s computing power—so you won’t lose capabilities as you reduce your environmental footprint. Sun’s newest chip takes advantage of multithreaded computing. This is a processing chip’s ability to run more than one part, or thread, of a specific program at one time. In the case of the UltraSPARC T1, each core can execute four threads. In an eight-core UltraSPARC T1, 32 threads can be run simultaneously. This equates in programs that take advantage of multithreading to run roughly three-and-a-half times faster than other processors. Thus, database servers, streaming media servers, application servers and other task-heavy services will run much more smoothly under a processor that takes advantage of multithreading.

Not only does Sun’s claim of green computing come from the UltraSPARC T1’s lower electricity consumption, but also in how much cooler the servers run. Experts say that a server room should be kept between 68-71 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent excess wear and failures due to overheating. As Sun claims that the 4,000 parts in a T2000 mean less heat generated by each server, less energy is therefore used to keep the server room at an ambient temperature.

Sun’s dedication to green computing can be summed up in CEO Scott Mc Nealy’s comments to an industry roundtable last September: “As the global market expands, sustainable growth strategies can help companies dramatically cut costs on data center environmentals, such as power and cooling, while still significantly increasing capabilities of the computers that power the network. Sun is addressing energy and resource efficiency, power consumption and waste management as we help businesses and our employees meet the challenges created by the evolving role of technology in our everyday lives.”

Individual businesses can gauge their power consumption as compared to their computing power thanks to a new metric introduced by Sun called SWaP. SWaP—performance / (space x power)—is a simple calculation that allows any customer to compare systems from different vendors. All of the data used to populate the SWaP metric is publicly available on most company Web sites or can be found through simple Web searches. Space: The space a server occupies can be measured by the rack unit height of the system. Wattage: Metrics on the server’s power recorded in watts. Estimated system power consumption from calculators or datasheets can be also used to assess wattage. Performance: Information about the level of performance or throughput a server maintains can come from any industry-standard benchmark. Although this metric is not yet an industry standard, it gives a good idea of how much power is required for servers to run, compared to the computing power they offer.

Having the technical data and cost savings are nice, but what does green computing mean for the environment? Recently, Sun’s UltraSPARC T1 was awarded a 2006 Environmental Prize for “Product with Less Environmental Impact” by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Madrid, the Confederacion Empresarial (Business Confederation) and the Autonomous Community of Madrid. The key features cited in the awarding of this prize for the UltraSPARC T1 were:

• UltraSPARC T1's performance could reduce by half the number of Web servers worldwide, drastically diminishing energy requirements, and consequently having a similar effect in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions as planting approximately 2,485 square miles of trees (Information included in Discover Magazine’s August 2005 issue).

• If half of the entry servers sold in the last three years were replaced by UltraSPARC T1 processors, more than 11 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions—the equivalent of what a million motor vehicles produce—would be eliminated.

• A company whose data processing center is formed by 1,000 servers consumes 7.02 million kilowatts per year—without including refrigeration, physical space requirements and other considerations. If the same calculations were made using servers based on UltraSPARC T1 processors, consumption would be only 73,080 kilowatts per year, a difference of more than 6.9 million kilowatts per year—and enough energy to power the electric energy needs of 2,316 typical Spanish homes for a full year. This would save the company 3.2 million euro ($3.9 million U.S. dollars) in its electricity bill within only three years, on average.

To find out more about Sun Microsystems, visit

Jeff Orloff is the associate editor for Green@Work magazine. He can be reached at

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