Jonathan Schwartz is the CEO and President of Sun Microsystems, and a member of Sun’s Board of Directors. He joined Sun after it acquired Lighthouse Design, where he was CEO and co-founder. Prior to that, Mr Schwartz was with McKinsey & Co. Mr Schwartz is an inveterate blogger, and has led Sun’s drive to engage the marketplace, and redefine corporate transparency. A leader behind many of Sun’s open source and standard setting initiatives, he’s been an outspoken advocate for the network as a utility with more than just value for the computing industry - but as a tool for driving economic, social and political progress. Mr Schwartz received degrees in economics and mathematics from Wesleyan University.
ICT is world-changing technology, but generating the energy to power computers causes major economic and ecological problems. Twelve million people join the Internet each week. If each gets a PC, consuming 200 watts, that’s ten-20 gigawatts of new power draw and a massive impact on the planet. Something has to change. ‘Eco’ is as much about economics as the environment. For companies, there is a commercial opportunity in eliminating this inefficiency; it is important for society that they do so.
Electricity is my favourite example of a technology that evolved to become a social utility. What started as a luxury for one very wealthy man - the financier JP Morgan, who was the primary backer of Thomas Edison’s electrical inventions, was the first to wire his house for electricity - became a technology that governments around the world committed to deliver to their citizenry. Why? Because electricity transformed lives and created opportunity. The same is true for the automobile. To this day, governments across the world subsidise the building of roads to traverse continents, connect markets and create opportunity. No one can doubt the transformative impact of the automobile. Did you know chauffeurs originally existed not to drive the car but to fix it? The original concern over how many chauffeurs the world could supply was a concern regarding technical aptitude, not driving skills - not dissimilar to the now debunked fear surrounding a shortage of computer programmers. Still, both inventions, electricity and the internal combustion engine, came at a price. Power generation littered the world with dams and power plants that exact a toll on the environment and our health. Roads, automobiles and the petrochemical industry have unquestionably had their fair share of impact on the planet, certainly not all positive. In all instances, industry, the consuming public and the voting public took this reality to heart. All ultimately said, ‘Let’s change this.’ People, markets and basic economics kicked into gear to drive transformative change. As an example, by far the most popular car where I live, in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the Toyota Prius. Not because people love the design but because the engine is extremely fuel-efficient. With the price of a barrel of petroleum continually increasing, fuel efficiency matters. California has some of the strictest fuel efficiency and automotive emission standards anywhere in the world, which makes the Prius even more appealing. Just look at GE - they have a booming business in the delivery of low-impact power generation technologies, from wind turbines to extremely efficient jet engines. What's going on? Consumers, voters and shareholders demand efficiency - partly because it’s good for the planet but mostly because it’s great for the bottom line. You can’t dismiss either if you want to build a sustainable or sustainably competitive business. Consumers want to save money as much as your Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Voters want a cleaner planet as much as businesses want competitive advantage. Now think about the IT market. What impact are we having on the world? On the positive side, the Internet is clearly creating enormous wealth - and driving transparency, social progress and efficiency. No one can possibly doubt the value of connectivity. On the negative side, the computing industry is partly to blame for high energy consumption. We create computers that draw enormous amounts of power, throw off huge amounts of heat, which requires the world to build power plants and install power-hungry air conditioners. You may not realize that today’s datacentres consume roughly two to four per cent of the world’s total power. Roughly 50 per cent of all power consumed in a datacentre is spent on transmission and cooling, and all of this happens while some systems are running at ten per cent utilization. Here’s a little known fact for you: Google’s and Yahoo!’s second largest operating expense - after the people they employ - is... electricity. That’s why they are building datacentres next to smelting plants. Literally. Twelve million people a week are joining the Internet. If each gets a PC, consuming 200 watts, that’s ten to 20 gigawatts of new power draw and a massive impact on the planet. If we’re serious about creating technologies that developing companies and economies can afford, something has to change. About five years ago, we started to see customers looking at waste in their datacentres with a far more scrutinizing eye. Looking forward, we bet the cost of powering a computer would eventually exceed its purchase price - and thus focusing on energy waste would be a profitable pursuit. Just imagine if your gasoline cost more than your car... We have a simple premise. Over my lifetime, I will consume roughly three times the power my parents consumed - and they, roughly three times their parents. As that trend continues, energy efficiency will become a competitive advantage - and an environmental imperative for governments and voters. You may not care about it in your den, but multiply your den by three million, and I guarantee you, there’s a lot to care about whether you’re in rural Minnesota or rural India. Ask anyone who works in a datacentre - space, heat and power are incredibly important. If your datacentre is in the centre of the city of London, some of the most expensive real estate in the world, you need servers that sip rather than gulp power without sacrificing speed or performance. Customers are also looking to get more out of their existing infrastructure through virtualization, greater efficiency and more eco-responsible products. Power efficiency and virtualization have only become more relevant. Not to everyone, certainly - only those that care about minimizing waste and the CIO who just realised she’s running datacentres at ten per cent efficiency. This not an annoyance, it’s a waste… of money. There is, and there will always be, commercial opportunity in eliminating inefficiency. To be clear, that is the primary motivation for any public company. ‘Eco’ is as much about economics as saving the environment; and this isn’t about hugging trees, it’s about hugging customers and shareholders. Paint it any colour you want. Along the way, if we reduce our carbon footprint, minimise our waste stream, and get crisper about our views on corporate social responsibility - does that have an impact on customers? Absolutely, yes - I’ve seen it firsthand. You don’t have to choose between being a great technology and one that will change the planet. You can be both. Moreover, we believe decision-makers across the world, from voters to developers, legislators to CFO’s are beginning to say, ‘something has to change’. May we be the first among many to respond.