At a RUGIT (Russell Group IT Directors) meeting in Liverpool for the next couple of days. Two interesting sessions today. The first one was on how we can use less power, especially for research computing. One of the scenarios examined was the use of PCs to perform tasks for High Throughput Computing, when they’re not being used, eg student open access PCs. This often uses a piece of software called Condor, and Condor clusters are in use at many UK Universities. One of the debates is around energy use – such PCs are usually in labs or classrooms, not the air-conditioned environment of a data centre. So, less power is consumed. But, we encourage everyone to turn their PCs off at night, so by leaving them turned on so jobs can be run on them, power use is increased. There is some research to show that using PCs still uses less power than dedicated computers in data centres, but this is still in its early stages.
We also looked at how power usage from our data centres (machine rooms) can be reduced. Basically, computers produce a lot of heat which has to be removed, usually by air-conditioning. Use of DC power (rather than AC), water-cooling, using waste heat to heat buildings, fresh air-cooling instead of air conditioning, are all things under consideration.
The second session was a look into the future – what will IT be like in 5, 10, 15 years time, and what effect will it have on our services. After an introductory talk looking at things like Moore’s Law, we split into groups to look at specific areas. My group had the task of looking at what consumer devices might be like in 5 years time – what will replace the iPod, iPhone etc, and what features will they have. We all agreed that they will be always on, always connected to “a network”, but we weren’t sure what that would be. They’ll have tactile interfaces, presence awareness and will communicate with each other. High definition video will be present and they’ll have a bigger virtual presence than their physical form, with either roll-out screens, virtual reality, or video projection. They’ll know who we are, where we are and what we’re doing. IT Services will have to accept that students will bring these devices to University and expect them to work and be supported. There'll probably be no need to provide University email systems, or wireless networks, as they’ll be available from so many other sources. Identity management and authentication will be key issues.