Low-carbon Computing: The Challenge
One of the biggest worries in technology today is the amount of energy consumed by information and communications technology (ICT). The levels of ICT carbon emissions are second only to the aviation industry and are also set to treble from 2008 – 2020, according to a recent report by The Climate Group. …
Article by Peter Barr
One of the biggest worries in technology today is the amount of energy consumed by information and communications technology (ICT). The levels of ICT carbon emissions are second only to the aviation industry and are also set to treble from 2008 – 2020, according to a recent report by The Climate Group. To address this challenge, SICSA has formed a consortium to do extensive system-wide research into low-carbon computing (LCC), “taking an holistic approach, from the underlying systems up to the organisation.”
The vision behind the SICSA work is to “change organisational and user behaviour in usage of ICT systems and services, to enable energy savings of 50% by 2020, above what is possible through energy-efficient hardware alone.”
According to a survey by the National Computing Centre, server systems utilisation and power efficiency is typically “very low” in organisations, and only 13.4% of them monitor power consumption. In addition, there is little knowledge or experience about “being green,” and current legislation offers very few incentives to be green. In SICSA’s opinion, it is not enough to look at technology savings alone but important to focus on people’s behaviour and awareness of energy issues, from individual user level upwards.
SICSA plans are to work in five areas to tackle the low carbon challenge:
MEASUREMENT & CONTROL – measure system-wide energy usage in systems and software for ICT systems, and devise appropriate metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs) and policy to control energy usage.
MODELLING & STIMULATION – provide models to evaluate alternative energy reduction strategies in heterogeneous large-scale systems and balance energy consumption against non-functional requirements such as performance, dependability and availability of services.
SOFTWARE ECOLOGIES – develop a fine-grained model of the energy characteristics of the individual and interacting software components in desktop systems, and the effects of introducing new components with known energy needs.
USER BEHAVIOUR – provide means for individuals to monitor their energy usage of ICT systems & software and enable support for changing individual user behaviour to reduce energy consumption.
ORGANISATIONAL BEHAVIOUR – discover the critical socio-technical issues in complex organisations that will influence the use and uptake of low-carbon computing.
SICSA theme leaders will play a critical role, with Greg Michaelson (Heriot-Watt University) working at the platform level, dealing with “software ecologies,” Steve Brewster (University of Glasgow) dealing with user behaviour, Saleem Bhatti (University of St Andrews) focusing on measurement and control and SICSA director Ian Sommerville (University of St Andrews) looking at organisational issues, complemented by Professor Michael Pidd of Lancaster University and Stephen Gilmore of the University of Edinburgh, both working on modelling and simulation. The SICSA team will work with partners in the ICT industry, business and government to produce the final report.
SICSA is adopting an holistic, system-wide approach to LCC, focusing on the “energy-awareness of users, and changing user and organisational behaviour,” rather than on technology issues alone. Its proposal states: “Individual users are unaware of the energy usage from their direct or indirect use of ICT systems, especially where such systems may not be restricted to their desktop, but are part of a large, distributed system, e.g. use of cloud systems.” And this approach requires the team to work across multiple disciplines and universities, drawing on a pool of talent all across the country to deal with an issue that is not just of national interest but of increasing global concern.