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Janaki Blum for SARID, October 18, 2006

Google Inc. is worried about energy costs. Whereas the performance of the Internet search leader’s computing infrastructure has nearly doubled over the last three generations, performance per watt of server hardware remained nearly unchanged, so that electricity consumption has almost doubled as well. Last year, company engineers warned that without intervention, the power costs of running computers could overtake initial hardware outlays by the end of the decade.

Google relies on thousands of its own, chiefly low-end servers, to keep its search engine buzzing. Typically 50 to 60 percent of the total power consumed by these machines is through the processor. Some chip makers are improving processor performance per watt through producing chips that simultaneously execute many instruction sequences, or “threads”, instead of the currently typical one to four. However, major circuit and architectural innovations are needed to address longer-term energy use trends.

Meanwhile, Google announced on October 16th that it is converting its headquarters to run partly on solar power. At the Solar Power 2006 conference in California, the company said that the sun could eventually provide as much as 30 percent of the power for its enormous headquarters near San Francisco.

The venture, thought to be the largest solar project undertaken by a U.S. company, involves installing more than 9,200 solar panels on Google’s main building or “Googleplex” by next spring. The solar panels are projected to generate roughly 1,6 megawatts of electrical power, equivalent to the needs of 1000 average houses. The company calculates that the project cost could be recouped in five to 10 years through savings in energy charges.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, espouse renewable energy, most visibly by driving hybrid cars. They are concerned that spiraling power costs could have serious consequences for the overall affordability of computing, as well the overall health of the planet and hope that this ambitious project will set an example for the rest of corporate America.

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