Thursday Aug 06, 2009

CA$H for Wintel Clunkers and Common $ense

Classic Clunker with Cedarburg, WI county fair light reflections.

According to a CNN money article on the Cash for Clunkers program:
  • The trade-in vehicle has to get a combined city and highway fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon or less.
  • The average fuel economy of new vehicles being purchased under Cash for Clunkers is 25.4 mpg
  • The average fuel economy increase from the old vehicle to the new is about 61%.
For this 61% fuel economy improvement in a relative small percentage of the U.S. car fleet, $1 Billion has been spent and another $2 Billion may soon be wasted. There are a number of problems with this program.
  • U.S. fuel economy peaked in the late 1980s and vehicles exceeding 25 mpg have existed since AMC's 1959 Rambler, so only those who deliberatly chose the lowest mpg vehicles can avail of the program.
  • Those who chose economy cars and other respectably efficient vehicles (Civics, Festivas...) are punished to subsidize those who chose inefficient vehicles (Hummers, Vipers...), in effect it is a regressive tax!
  • The real mpg/person savings can be negative, for example when an 18mpg 8 passenger vehicle is replaced with a 25.4 mpg 4 passenger vehicle.
  • The program also ignores the fact that it takes energy to crush an old but serviceable car and replace it with a newly built car.

If the Cash For Clunkers program had instead been directed to encourage companies and individuals to junk their Wintel PCs and replace them with Sun Ray thin clients, there is a potential for a 97.5% decrease in energy consumption. So why isn't there a Cash for Clunkers program for desktop personal computers?

Monday Aug 18, 2008

Intercontinental demand load balancing (outsource your carbon footprint!)

While visiting family in Wisconsin last summer, I learned that a Sun Ray client attached to servers more than 3500 miles away performed at least as well as a client at my home 8 miles away and nearly as well as clients right in the Dublin office. So, I was able to use Irish wind energy while working in a coal powered corner of Wisconsin. I wondered if this technique could be formalized into demand side transcontinental IT energy load balancing GRID? I wrote up the idea and with Sun's help, it was published in the September issue of Research Disclosure. At a time when oil prices are soaring and some are predicting that up to 50% of electricity load might eventually be devoted to IT, I can think of quite a few possibilities for this kind of grid system:

  • Efficient alternative to carbon tax and trade:Wisconsin and many other parts of the world is not suitable for solar, wind, tide, hydroelectric or geothermal energy. When carbon taxes are enacted, places such as these could be at a severe economic disadvantage compared to Nevada, California and other places where carbon neutral energy sources are abundant. Industries in these places have few alternatives. They could wait for superconducting electricity grids and buy energy from elsewhere, they could pay the carbon tax and buy credits from other states, they could send jobs and industry to where energy is cheap and clean, or they could use demand load balancing to keep jobs and outsource the energy demand.
  • Failsafe UPS:When I worked in South Florida, we could almost set our watches by the daily summer thunderstorms. Sometimes it would knock our power out five times a day. Even if the power glitch lasted only one second, it took the DEC servers a half hour to reboot and certainly disrupted our work day. Ideally, our servers would have been hosted somewhere where electricity was more reliable. A small solar panel (~3500 Watts) on the roof would have been sufficient to power 150 Sun Ray clients and their monitors. The lack of servers in our office would have also made it easier for our HVAC system to cope with the Florida heat.
  • Shifting peak demand: Our least efficient, most expensive and most polluting power plants usually come on line during periods of peak demand. I've heard that some utilities paid as much as $0.45/kWh for peak electricity transferred over the conventional "supply side" electricity grid. Ever since air conditioning became popular, Wisconsin electricity demand peaks during late afternoon on the hottest days of summer. By contrast, Florida power demand peaks during the coldest winter nights because thats the only time of year when simple but inefficient electric heating systems are necessary. While there may be some occasions when both Florida and Wisconsin are at peak demand, IT demand load grid balancing could transfer load between northern and southern hemispheres if necessary. Use Australian solar energy to power your data center during a cloudy Irish winter night. Use Irish wind to power your Australian data center during a windless day.
  • Optimizing peak load across timezones:One of the reasons Dublin's Sun Ray servers seemed faster to me when I was working from Wisconsin is that by noon Wisconsin time, many of the local users in the Irish timezone would have gone home. If the global grid load balancing system were smart enough, it could predict when and where server resources would become available. As timezones approach the end of their workday, they would advertise that resources are becoming available for timezones to the west. This could help flatten the daily energy demand peaks and allow us to use more efficient power sources.

If anyone has suggestions or alternative ways of using energy, I'm open to comments. Or you might want to consider writing up the idea and submitting it for possible publication at Research Disclosure. This is a useful publication service which allows the free exchange of ideas, while discouraging patent trolls.

Wednesday Mar 19, 2008

Gobi Sun Ray client laptop and kids

At the moment, my daughter is quietly playing a playhouse Disney game on a (quiet, diskless and cool!) Accutech Gobi laptop.

Under Construction

This Gobi 7 is an early evaluation model and is not without its kinks. I've been trying to configure as an alternate Sun Ray client for work. After reading Dan Lacher's blog some documents and a few helpful emails, I still didn't have any luck getting the Gobi go connect via VPN through my router to Sun's servers. So I thought I'd try connecting to a Sun Ray server on a local network. As this is a holiday weekend and I didn't plan to go into work, I needed to configure a Sun Ray server at home.

Don't try this at home

O.K. do try this at home, but try to find a better computer. Alternative hobbies, the cost of everything in Ireland, kids and other priorities turned me into a late adopter of home technology. Our best home computer is still an 8-year old Apple G3 Powerbook which was a hand-me-down from my brother who is a video and 3D animation artist. Our only desktop PC is an EOL'd Dell GX110 with 512Mb of RAM. I had previously installed Solaris Nevada Build 50 on this in order to play with ZFS and provide temporary storage for some iMovies and photos. Also if anyone breaks into the house, the last thing they'll want to haul out is this heavy piece of scrap. I hadn't upgraded because the installer for S10U4 and many of the newer Nevada builds gave up at the pitiful amount of memory. Fortunately, SXDE 09/07 was slightly more compassionate, and I was able to run a text install. After the fresh install (being careful to preserve my video and photo slices), it was simply a matter of:

 zpool import bigdrive
 zpool import exporthome 

This imported and created permanent mounts for my iMovies and photos on /export/home and /bigdrive. Cool!

O.K. SXDE 09/07 installed, but can I put SRSS on this? I won't know if I don't try. I downloaded SRSS 4.0 for Solaris and ran

. I had chosen the end user install cluster so it turned out I had to manually install some dhcp packages. Then:

/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utconfig  {answer a bunch of questions}  I defaulted everything except enabling a dhcp server and web admin.
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utadm -c
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utadm -A   (My LAN network address)
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utadm -L on
/opt/SUNWut/sbin/utadm -n

Next I enter my wifi parameters into the Gobi laptop, tell it to use DHCP and for some reason I don't understand, don't tell it the IP address of the Sun Ray server (it figures it out). There it is, the dtlogin prompt! I login, browse to Playhouse Disney to test the ability to run flash games. Hmm, it looks a bit jumpy as I would expect. A 600Mhz 512MB PC running SRSS 4 on an unsupported Nevada build delivered via a 54MBps Wifi connection to a thin-client laptop. Do you see what I mean by "don't try this at home?"

I go back to the Wired VPN Sun Ray terminal to try to read email suggestions about my Gobi VPN problem. When turn around my 4-year-old is playing flash games on the Gobi. She has no idea this isn't a real laptop nor does she care that the PC it is displaying is hopelessly underpowered. In case you haven't guessed, Nintendo/Playstation and other hot and powerful video game boxes haven't yet entered our humble home. That might have set her expectations a bit high. We do give her toys though. And not just sock puppets and cattail dolls. Now that we've proven there is nothing wrong with Gobi's local connectivity, I'll have to pry it away from her so I can figure out how to connect the Gobi via VPN. But that's a story for another day.

Friday Feb 08, 2008

Laptop data confiscated at U.S. border - another reason for Sun Ray

Slashdot highlighted this Washington Post article on Confiscation and copying of all electronic data at U.S. borders. From the article:

She said the federal agent copied her log-on and password, and asked her to show him a recent document and how she gains access to Microsoft Word. She was asked to pull up her e-mail but could not because of lack of Internet access. With ACTE's help, she pressed for relief. More than a year later, Udy has received neither her laptop nor an explanation.


As chaotic and lawless as the early internet is, we've come to a time when it is already a safer place for your data than your briefcase or laptop. Of course, if you like the weight and coolness of a laptop to remind you that you are traveling for business, but don't want to risk your corporate data falling into the wrong hands, the Sun Ray 2N or Naturetech's Sun Ray compatible laptop are ideal for you. I'd like to see the look on the face of the customs guy when he asks to copy all of your laptop data and you tell him, "Data? There is no data here."

[Read More]

Wednesday Jun 20, 2007

Outsource your IT energy consumption with Sun Ray

I worked a few days from my home town, Racine, Wisconsin because it was the most convenient stopping off point for our trip to a Caribbean Wedding (You might not have heard the phrase, "Wisconsin -- gateway to the Caribbean?") During one Wednesday evening sailboat race I looked back at the base of the new smokestacks which will soon dominate the skyline over Wind Point penninsula. Two years ago the Wisconsin Public Service Commission made the unfortunate choice of continuing the almost exclusive dependence on coal energy. The construction of two massive new coal power plants promised to bring much-needed jobs to the area and here, deep in the rust belt, that's all it takes for almost any project to have overwhelming public support. The thermal pollution alone will impact an area of Lake Michigan the size of West Virginia.

Few people want such behemoths in their back yard but most of us use the services this electricity provides. The Great Lakes states aren't ideal for most alternative energy sources. Norway and California have higher mountains for hydropower, Iceland and New Zealand have more potential for geothermal, Florida, Texas and North Africa have better potential for solar energy. Ideally we could transport alternative energy from places where it is more easily produced. For example, Ireland could produce 7 times its energy consumption in wind energy. Denmark occasionally produces more than 100% of its consumption from wind power and Iceland is close to acheiving carbon neutrality by utilizing its geothermal and hydroelectric resources. But overhead power lines add their own visual pollution and provide a vulnerable target for lightning strikes and wind damage. Until stable, room temperature superconductors are a reality, I\^2R losses will make it impractical to plug our PCs into a cheap utility halfway around the world.

But then I thought about the energy I was using while working remotely. My Sun Ray client was consuming about 4 watts of coal power, the monitor consumed another dozen or so but my local consumption was much less than it would have been if I'd used a Windows P.C. Most of my IT energy needs were being serviced by a utility in Ireland and a percentage of this electricity was generated from an offshore wind farm. I was working squarely in coal country where every kilowatt/hour I consume produces over 2 pounds of carbon dioxide, but I was using wind power. Could this be extended to corporations and expanded so that IT service providers could set up their servers where energy is cheap and clean? I will tell you that it is technically possible. I had expected that the trans Atlantic use of a Sun Ray client would be slow because of the latency in what I assumed would be one or more satellite hops. But for what I was doing (email, terminal, web browser, office applications), the Sun Ray performance was fine. In fact I found that for email it was faster than the laptop. When I select a message on the laptop, the entire contents of the email had to come through VPN from the IMAP server to the client on the laptop and rendered on the screen but when I select a message on the Sun Ray, most of the work was being done locally on the server in Ireland and only the relatively small final rendered email text was compressed and transferred to the client. I intended to video the Sun Ray vs Laptop comparison for upload to joost and demonstrate that I could easily run the client from a couple of cheap 1 foot square amorphous Solar panels but I ran out of time.

Someone could profit from this by advertising: "Reduce your IT energy bill and carbon footprint, move your IT business logic to our servers in sunny Australia!" (or windy Ireland, wavy Scotland...) Would this work? Do real-world companies, governments and other IT consumers pay for the hunk of hot hardware on their desk, or do they really just want the service that that hunk of hot hardware provides?

I suppose by posting this here I ruin my chances of being the world's first IT energy consumption outsourcing consultant but I like working for Sun and if someone else succeeded at this, it would be good for everyone... except possibly the guy who had planned to sell 1215 train car loads of coal to WE Energy's Oak Creek plant every day.

Tuesday May 29, 2007

Fraunhofer Institute study shows economic and ecological advantages of thin clients

A recent study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen, Germany showed that thin clients can significantly reduce costs, energy consumption and CO2 output. The study considered production, transportation, use and disposal phase of traditional "wintel" PCs vs typical thin clients and the servers necessary for their use. While its important that a respected institute for environmental science did this study, in my opinion, the study underestimated the potential savings in energy usage and CO2 output. The study did not specifically consider Sun Ray ulta-thin clients (4 Watts), but even the 14-19 Watt IGEL thin clients considered in the study required much less energy than a typical desktop PC (68-96 Watts) in the use phase. The study concluded that, "Even when including the cooling power for the server, which has been estimated conservatively as twice the required power, thin clients use significantly less energy than PCs (factor 2)".1 Obviously when you add production, transport and disposal costs, thin clients win hands down. Thin and ultra-thin clients don't yet meet the average hacker or gamer's desktop needs, but for most enterprise uses, the advantages are becoming clearer every day. You can find a pdf report on the full study here.

1The study appeared to overlook the fact that typical enterprise use of desktop PCs also requires a server.

Article resubmitted to correct spelling in title, article and permalink. Thanks Rudi!

Monday Mar 19, 2007

About those SunLive07 Tech Days London public access terminals

For anyone who attended the SunLive07 Tech Days conference in London and attended talks and demos of Looking Glass, Wonderland and other cool new technology, you might have been disappointed in the look and feel and performance of the public access terminals upstairs. I can only say that the kiosk mode CDE running on what appeared to be an old version of Solaris with an old version of Sun Ray server does not look or perform nearly as well as anything beyond Solaris 10 with SRSS 3.0+. Here in Ireland I get about 1 Megabit broadband only when there is a tailwind. Yet the GNOME based JDS desktop in Solaris 10 or any recent Nevada build looks and works fine on a Sun Ray at my home. Some long time Solaris advocates perfer CDE on Solaris 8, but I'd put it in the same category as orange T-shirts. It would be really cool to have trusted JDS running on the public terminals. It's one of those technologies (like dtrace, ZFS...) that doesn't make for a flashy passive demo but once you've used it, you get it!



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