Google offers to share its secrets to cut power bills for computers

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The Independent Online

Google, the internet search engine giant whose service is powered by hundreds of thousands of servers, is lobbying the computer industry to improve the power efficiency of its products.

Simple changes to PC power supplies could save billions of dollars for industries with high computer use, the company told computer hardware developers yesterday, and Google's top engineers offered to share its secret in-house technology to help create an industry standard.

Power supplies to standard PCs and servers typically waste 30-40 per cent of their energy, but Google engineer Luiz Barroso told attendees at the Intel developers' conference in San Francisco that it had cut that waste to just 10 per cent.

Google estimates that if deployed in 100 million PCs running for an average of eight hours per day, its new standard would save 40 billion kilowatt-hours over three years, or more than $5bn at California's energy rates.

It might also enable Google to buy in more pre-built hardware from traditional server manufacturers, rather than relying on the in-house engineers which have built its network of computers from scratch. This has become increasingly expensive as the number of servers used by Google has mushroomed from 8,000 five years ago to an estimated 500,000 today. Google's servers store indexes to words and images on websites across the internet, and information on the web pages themselves.

Most other internet companies buy in hardware from traditional computer manufacturers. The massive expansion of the internet, and the increasing use of the web to access music and video, has pushed the cost of the physical infrastructure up the agenda at companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and other internet media companies.

Mr Barroso presented the conference with a white paper arguing that power supplies are inefficient because they have to convert AC current to the DC current used inside PCs, and because they produce four separate voltages when only one is needed.

"If you're trying to build interesting systems, life is easier when hardware vendors are aware of what works for you and what doesn't," he said. "There are several hard technical problems surrounding power efficiency of computers, but we've found one that is actually not particularly challenging and could have a huge impact on the energy used by home computers and low-end servers.

"We believe that the development of a new open standard is necessary to achieve very high efficiencies at low costs, so we have begun discussions with Intel and other vendors that we hope might lead to significantly more efficient power supplies without increasing costs."

Intel's three-day developers' forum, which began yesterday, brings together companies and technology professionals interested in products using the company's latest microchip designs. The company used the event to unveil a new suite of faster chips.