Lead or Follow?

Blame always flows downhill, and energy usage is about to become very political.


Like it or not, governments are going to be dictating energy policies in the very near future.


The scenario will start unfolding at the data center, make its way down to the device level, and ultimately land at the system level. At the chip design level, the situation will be particularly bad. For one thing, communication from the top never makes its way all the way down the food chain without an escalation in hysteria at each level. Companies are always afraid of telling their customers that they can’t meet their goals, so they simply pass along the message with a growing urgency to their suppliers.


The problem at the very top is that there are an estimated 1 million servers going online each year in the United States, according to The Uptime Institute, an independent research organization. That number of servers requires the construction of additional power plants, and it’s happening at a time when it’s difficult to get approval for any new plant construction. The situation is particularly bad in China, where power is being rationed in almost all major business centers. Adding more servers to the mix is not likely to be a welcome change, and concern over global warming makes additional power from anything but renewable sources highly unlikely.


From governments to power companies and so on down the line, you can expect lots of finger pointing. The companies buying servers and building new datacenters will demand more efficient machines, and the server makers will demand more efficient components to drive the servers. Software makers will point fingers at the hardware makers, saying they can’t build applications to take advantage of the multiple cores. Hardware makers will point fingers at the applications developers, complaining about bloated applications, operating systems and middleware.


Finally, everything will make its way down to the chip developers, who will be held accountable for fixing the whole problem. Somebody has to be blamed, and they’re the supplier of the supplier to the supplier of the customer. Blame flows downhill. It’s axiomatic, and it should be one of the first things they teach in business schools.


It doesn’t matter that the problems are caused at every level and that the system-level companies have done more than everyone else to fix it. In many respects, the blame should be shared by the end user. But figuring out who to blame may be less important than trying to get ahead of this problem. It’s always worse when the government gets involved in a problem first.


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