While many companies have only recently been thinking seriously about green issues, Sun has long put the environmental agenda at the centre of its thinking, both internally in the way it runs its business and in the products it produces.
Two of the company's green gurus: Richard Barrington, head of public policy, and Subdoh Bapat, VP and CTO distinguished engineer, volume systems products, talk about the main issues companies should be tackling and how Sun is helping its customers meet the environmental challenge.
Q: How long has Sun been involved in trying to make its business greener, and why?
RB: For me, climate change is purely a symptom of over consumption. The world is running out of stuff and we are consuming the wrong stuff. As an organisation we started to design for the environment in 1999, but at that time it was very much internal navel gazing but that has changed now.
We accept the whole lifecycle approach to products, working on the ethics of the supply chain and how we recover products at the end of life. We are still the only IT company to apply the WEEE directive (waste electrical and electronic equipment) globally, as our thinking is that if it is good enough for here, it is good enough for anywhere. Legislation such as the WEEE initiative has encouraged us to look at the lifecycle, reducing the use of plastics in our systems and replacing with metal which has a value at the end of its life. Some 95% of what comes back to us has a value.
Q: How have these changes manifested themselves in your product line?
RB: From a UK perspective we have seen an explosive growth in desktop ultra thin devices that should last for 20 years. Moore's law has been superseded by Metcalfe's law about the network. We can take all the assets from the desktop and hold on the network.
We can drive the cost efficiency of data centres. If you are a CIO and have 50 000 machines, it is a nightmare to manage, so if you can suck all that back and get it onto 100 servers that will bring tremendous cost efficiencies. Although there is a lot of focus on the data centre, the desktop is where a lot of energy is used and that means 75% of the efficiency to be had is on the desktop. We tend to ignore the fact there are 1,5 billion desktops worldwide and 100 million servers. Globally, 2%-4% of energy consumption is ICT and is expected to double over the next eight to 10 years.
But we were talking to a company which replaces 15 000 PCs a year. We have got technology that allows you to tell that PC it is a thin client. We are aiming for 75% energy efficiency and 95% machine efficiency. There is a fundamental gap between people who make stuff, write the code and manage it.
Q: What is the driver for companies to make changes? Is it purely costs?
RB: Well there is legislation, such as WEEE, the emissions trading scheme and the UK energy white paper. But we are also seeing an increase in shareholder activism.
The challenge for the IT industry is that the IT director does not pay for the energy bill, so the only reason the IT director gets involved is because he is in pain and about to run out of space. But we are now seeing environmental governance appearing in RFPs. Two years ago the question would be are you ISO 14001, now there will be 10 or 15 questions on corporate social responsibility, asking about the supply chain, packaging, and disposal.
Q: What other issues are impacting the green agenda?
SB: The problem is growth in the Internet connected section of the population. A third of people in the works have never made a phone call, but now 1 billion people in China and a billion people in India are going online. So there needs to be a growth in the back-end to support those connected customers and it is adding pressure at the back end.
An IDC study in 2006 said that in we spent $18,5bn just keeping the data centre powered up. To see what will happen by 2012 is a fairly scary scenario. The unit volume of servers is growing 14% a year, and servers are getting hotter and consuming more power, and that adds 16% a year.
On top of that, the price of power is going up 13% a year. So that is almost 50% growth a year and will be $200bn by 2012. So we are trying to bring this number down and Sun is uniquely positioned to do this because we have capabilities at any level of the stack, all the way from the chip to the data centre.
Q: How does that work?
SB: That means we can innovate in energy efficiency at the chip level and then apply that at the system level so systems can take advantage of energy features of the chip. Then we have the boxes with the operating system (Solaris), middleware applications such as Java, and we can take the boxes and the racks and put them in either a traditional data centre or a shipping container with highly optimised heating and cooling. We are innovating at all levels of the stack and attacking the problem everywhere, which is different from other vendors.
So for example, AMD is a great company with power efficiency built in the chip, but the moment people use AMD to build a server they are not necessarily taking of advantage of that and do not really know how Linux will behave on that.
In the future, we will allow customers to do more with energy usage on the server. So you can tell the 1000-watt device not to consume more than 500 watts, or you can tell a box if its utilisation dips below 10% that it could migrate to another box and put itself to sleep. You want a box that is 20% utilised. What you do not want is a server that is 20% utilised but drawing 90% of the energy.