Monday, December 3, 2012

Sustainable Technology: 'Switching' Things Around

Despite efforts to turn off the lights and ACs, in the past two months the energy meters are inching higher when we're all hoping they will reverse direction.  So, when I had the chance to chat with Dave Neudorf about the possibility of turning servers off at night (when use is less) the conversation twisted and turned itself into all sorts of directions. It is to the little victories such as these that I hope to turn out attention to in this article.

Does anyone know what a switch is?  No, not one that you turn the lights on/off with. If I understand it correctly a switch is a connection between devices within the same network. Say we have a computer and it needs to connect to a network to access information or any type of service. A switch will be present between the server and the device to transmit and relay data from one device to the other. Apparently there are switches all over the place at the moment and each switch remains 'on' in case any device needs its functionality. But not for long!

As we take a few weeks over the semester to re-energize and relax, the Ampang campus will be undergoing great changes. When we all return to ISKL in January this will be a whole new place. Except we won't be able to see it. New technology will allow these new and improved switches to use only the power necessary (depending on what is being used). Say a switch provides power to 48 devices (it's maximum) but only one is being used. At present the switches need to remain 'on' for all 48 connections. Not so with the new ones. Needless to say this is the type of 'behind the scenes' technology that makes things more efficient both in information transmission and in energy consumption. 

And what of new plans?  Well, the future could hold great things for our Tech Department. As we move to putting a computer in every student's lap at the Ampang campus we will need more energy. Or will we?  Future ideas, such as server virtualization, might be around the corner for our technology infrastructure as well. Still only in the "brainstorming" phase, a move to virtualization would mean using possibly 90% less energy with more power to make adjustments simply by allowing the servers to recognize what is necessary and funneling the power for that purpose. No more turning on the entire school server system 24/7. No longer keeping everything on because there might be someone using Moodle at 3 am. 

Is if safe to say that as our school grows so does the energy it uses?  Though we are working hard to answer "no" to that, at the moment our data indicate that yes, it tends to. But that shouldn't mean we don't take the time to marry technology with sustainable decision-making for the future. In so doing we can become ubiquitous with 90% less server energy. Now that's a 'switch' worth making!

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