It’s the widest reaching, longest, most flexible and one of the most lucrative competitions the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has ever run. Energy efficient computing is needed by, and so straddles, fields as diverse as: parallel and multicore, devices, HPC (High Performance Computing), data centres, software application developers, those working in embedded systems, compilers and more.
The big players - ARM, Intel, Google - have been investing heavily in energy efficient systems this year. ARM, in particular, has long seen that energy efficiency combined with optimum performance, is the way to go. Smaller businesses, however, are often more preoccupied with a different kind of efficiency: cost. And some may not even be aware that the answers they seek actually lie in the improved energy efficiency of their systems and so entitle them to a substantial chunk of the £1.25 million the UK’s Technology Strategy Board is prepared to give away.
These are the people the TSB is particularly keen to reach, for the funding on offer. They most likely work in one of the following areas:
Parallel and multicore computing: are you concerned with finding ways to turn off that processor when it’s not in use?
Devices: who doesn’t want longer battery life?
Producers of tools for those writing software: why aren’t there more which optimise software usage?
High performance computing (HPC): whether in weather prediction systems or anything working at atomic scale, with so much computing power in the room, you have big numbers to crunch. Wouldn’t you like a smaller electricity bill?
Data centres: Plenty of energy efficiency going on here. But what about third party providers of kit? Smart software to utilise resources in more energy efficient ways, for example.
Compiler writers: compilers - programmes transforming source code into another computer language - are standardised. Most are concerned with performance. Can you come up with one that’s both performance and energy efficiency motivated?
Embedded systems: whether it’s a smart car, an underwater monitoring device or the standby capacity of a TV. Energy efficient computing has lots to offer in this area.
Feasibilty: is it possible to have standards to compare the efficiency of apps, devices or systems? Software apps would be a prime target for comparison.
There’s no doubt that energy efficient computing presents a challenge. The TSB’s lead technologist Jonathan Mitchener calls it a “A cultural challenge for a technical community.”
“It’s crucial for certain sectors,” he says, “and software people need to talk to hardware people because software and hardware come at this from difference perspectives.” “Brand leaders, like ARM, have long built energy efficiency into their systems but software people don’t think about it in the same way and their culture is different. For instance, ARM would think nothing of developing a software tool to measure a chip’s energy for license purposes, whereas someone working in software would be just as likely to find something free and open source.”
Mitchener’s belief is that the challenge lies in the various disparate fields within the technological community talking to one another:
“Occasionally, there is a company, like Apple, where the hardware and software departments do talk to each other, and that’s why it works. But typically engineers and computer scientists don’t work together. In some areas, such as performance perhaps, this hasn’t been a problem. It’s generally characteristic of how the industry works. Technology is no where near as integrated as manufacturing and this is a result of education, because people do either electronic engineering or they do computer science. They don’t really cross over that much. But if you have sepertate hardware and software all the time - this can cause problems, especially for energy efficiency.”
He is keen that the challenge is not seen as simply a computing one:
“The term “Energy Efficient Computing” will attract computer types, but people are battling away doing research in many other areas. We want to tap into all those communities that work with systems which have electronics embedded in them”.
So you ask: if I work in hardware, how do I find myself a software partner? And vice versa. Why not try the Energy Efficient Computing Special Interest Group’s discussion forums? Or, if you don’t find what you’re looking for there, how about LinkedIn Groups?
Still need convincing? The latest ICT sustainability global benchmark report from Fujitsu found that organisations that account for ICT energy costs and consumption in their budget have a 40% higher IT Sustainability Index than those that don’t. This suggests that the measurement of ICT energy usage is crucial to enable efficiency gains. Cause for concern is that the UK presented the largest drop in ICT sustainability scores of all the countries surveyed.
An increase in the energy efficiency of computing (and the technologies it makes possible) will revolutionise our lives on many levels and in fields as diverse as health, ICT, electronics, sensors, transport, materials and nanotechnology. Historically, computer scientists and designers have focused on high-performance computing but evolution is now drawing top designers and engineers to tackle energy efficiency - defined by whole-system integrated design and elegant frugality in the use of electricity and the transmittal of data.
Are you up to the challenge? Don’t miss out, the competition’s registration of interest closes on 28th November. The full competition brief can be found here, and don’t forget to join the EEC SIG, where we’ll be sure to publish any updates.