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Intel fills green software gap

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Everyone agrees that green computing is a great idea. Well, everyone but software makers.

Last month, OpenEco's Energy Camp 2008 focused on traditional environmental issues - such as sustainable energy - it also touched on the role of IT. Concern about the carbon emissions of power stations powering Second Life servers was balanced by the possibilities for raising awareness through social networking.

Soon after, Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs made sure he emphasised Apple's green credentials when he announced the Macintosh Air. And every time Reg Developer tackles green software and the green datacenter, readers say much the same thing: Something must be done to make computing more power efficient.

And yet it doesn't seem like companies in the software sector have any interest in taking the lead. We have found few serious initiatives to promote the cause of more efficient - and, therefore, greener - software. It's been the systems and hardware companies that are making the headlines, such as Dell at last year's Oracle OpenWorld

To that end, it's chip giant Intel that's stood out as the only high-profile IT vendor looking for ways to improve software development to further the green cause.

Helping lead Intel's work is Bob Steigerwald, the engineering manager for the Software Solutions Group (SSG), appointed the company's green guru last year. His brief is to look at ways software vendors can reduce the power consumption their products require. "We started looking at this about six months ago and we have been doing a lot of experimentation and we are now working on tools to evaluate software performance," Steigerwald said.

Intel has been looking at how to improve battery life with efficient software since 2002. The new initiative, though, looks at other issues such as how to make software "power aware".

"There is a much bigger energy saving perspective now with companies like ourselves and Google looking at how we can run more efficient datacenters. The focus has been very much on hardware - but we think software efficiencies can make a big contribution too," Steigerwald said.

An example of this is the tickless idle feature introduced in Linux lat year, which Steigerwald said demonstrated how a simple change to an important piece of software can make a real difference.

"The older Linux kernel used to be on constant alert but with tickless idle it only wakes up when there is an interrupt or when it is expecting something to happen. The Less Watts project has shown some pretty good energy savings using this with the PowerTop tool."

PowerTop can identify the components that are using resources inefficiently so that areas for improvement may be identified.

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