Chipping_away_goth - N news Technology |...

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±N news FEBRUARY 2011 | VOL. 54 | NO. 2 | COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM 13 SCREENSHOT COURTESY OF MISERWARE, INC. Chipping Away at Greenhouse Gases Power-saving processor algorithms have the potential to create significant energy and cost savings. Technology | DOI:10.1145/1897816.1897823 Gregory Goth tions that haven’t been answered, and NSF funding might help answer them,” Kant says. “These have been linger- ing for quite some time. For instance, when you look at the question of how much energy or power you really need to get some computation done, there has been some research, but it tends T HE INFORMATION TECHNOL- OGY industry is in the van- guard of “going green.” Proj- ects such as a $100 million hydro-powered high-perfor- mance data center planned for Holy- oke, MA, and green corporate entities such as Google Energy, the search gi- ant’s new electrical power subsidiary, are high-profile examples of IT’s big moves into reducing the greenhouse gases caused by computers. However, the true benefits of such projects are likely to be limited; most users in areas supplied by coal, oil, or natural gas-fired power plants would likely find it difficult to change to a ful- ly sustainable supply source. These market dynamics have not been lost on government research di- rectors. Agencies such as the U.S. Na- tional Science Foundation (NSF) have begun encouraging just the sort of research into component-level power management that might bring signifi- cant energy savings and reduced cli- matic impact to end users everywhere without sacrificing computational performance. In fact, the NSF has held two work- shops in the newly emphasized sci- ence of power management, one in 2009 and one in 2010. Krishna Kant, a program director in the Computer Sys- tems Research (CSR) cluster at the NSF, says the power management project is part of the NSF’s larger Science, Engi- neering, and Education for Sustain- ability (SEES) investment area. “There are some fundamental ques- An intelligent power-management application, Granola uses predictive algorithms to dynamically manage frequency and voltage scaling in the chips of consumer PCs.
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14 COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM | FEBRUARY 2011 | VOL. 54 | NO. 2 news to be at a very, very abstract level to the extent it’s not very useful.” Thermal Head Start However abstract the state of some of the research into power management might be, basic computer science has given the IT industry a head start over other industries in addressing power issues. Whereas an auto manufacturer could continue to make gas-guzzling vehicles as long as a market supported such a strategy, two factors in particu- lar have focused microprocessor de- signers’ efforts on the imperatives of power efficiency. One of the factors is the thermal limitations of microprocessors as each succeeding generation grew doubly powerful per unit size. The other is the proliferation of laptops and mobile computing devices, which demand ad- vanced power management features to extend battery life. Kirk Cameron, asso- ciate professor of computer science at
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