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By | Phil Manchester 29th November 2007 20:02

Green irony? Tech vendors don't get it

The new gulags of Siberia

With approval poll ratings near record lows, it was only a matter of time before President George W. Bush's administration chose to hitch its fortunes to "IT-is-the-cause-and-cure-of-climate-change" bandwagon.

In his speech to the United Nations this week, Alexander Karsner, Bush's assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, described data centers as "centers of enormous waste" - but also said that technology can help solve the problem.

The comment comes when the IT industry has earmarked the "green" issue as a useful peg on which to hang its credentials for social responsibility. Google's promise this week to rid the world of coal-generated energy is the latest in a recent spate of green announcements from industry leaders. At OpenWorld earlier this month, Michael Dell praised his company's greenness with a pledge to be carbon neutral by the end of 2008 - although Dell actually came fourth "greenest" in last week's survey of server vendors.

We also have the prospect of wind-powered data centers and the strange idea of Microsoft setting up a giant server farm among the former Soviet gulags in Siberia to protect itself from forecast power outages - although quite how socially responsible a server gulag will be remains to be seen.

Intel is one company that does seem to be taking genuine practical steps towards greener computing. Faced with demand for more computing power with less energy consumption and heat generation in its processors, Intel is at the sharp end. Last month it pledged not to increase but to reduce its number of data centers to eight with a potential cost saving of $750m. Importantly for developers, Intel's engineering manager Bob Steigerwald revealed that Intel was actively looking at ways to improve software to make it more efficient. Intel is also supporting work on the Linux based PowerTOP

The answer to power-hungry data centers might, of course, lie in a different direction. The combination of fast computers based on superconductor technology sitting in satellites and powered by solar energy might seem fanciful. But plans were released last year to put a supercomputer in space, albeit for entirely different reasons, by 2009.

It is not a new idea. IBM considered it in the 1970s and supported the setting up of the ill-fated Satellite Business Systems (SBS) partly with this in mind. Unfortunately, the bandwidth was not sufficient to make it viable.

Ironically the last SBS satellite was decommissioned in July 2007 - around the time IBM started its big green push.®

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