Go Green, Save Green with Linux

Put Linux to work to save energy, money and the environment.

A new age of environmental awareness appears to be upon us. The meteoric economic rise of India, China and other large countries has not only unleashed a spike in petroleum prices and the spectre of dry gas pumps in our lifetime, but also has raised fears of our fragile planet's ability to support an SUV-lifestyle for billions. Furthermore, the scientific community feeds us daily evidence of our climate changing right before our eyes. The problems seem so daunting. What can we do to fight back and do well by the planet?

Although hybrid vehicles, wind turbines and ethanol get the green glory, many people in IT, including in our own Linux and Open Source communities, deserve attention for their green initiatives. With a global problem to solve that requires creativity, transparency and massive collaboration, who else would you call but the Linux folks? This article explains how Mother Nature's Mayday calls have inspired our community to innovate and do more with fewer resources. Whether your motivation is to green the earth or save greenbacks though improved efficiency, read on to find out more about how you can go green, and save green, with Linux.

How Is Linux Going Green?

A typical Linux server gulps about 225 Watts or more of power, meaning that the millions of Linux servers out there, now at around a 27% market share, are responsible for nearly 5 million tons of carbon emissions annually. Furthermore, Springboard Research recently reported that an average-size server has the same carbon footprint as a mid-size four-wheel-drive vehicle. In response to this and other daunting evidence, the color of Linux is purposefully going green. The number of green, Linux-based initiatives and projects is proliferating, and I'd like to share some of them with you. In this article, I discuss initiatives to save energy related to the Linux kernel, distributions and applications; virtualization; and exceptionally green Linux-based products (such as hardware).

There's Initiative in Those Initiatives

An initiative is only as good as the people and resources behind it. Three green-Linux initiatives have formed recently: two deep-pocketed ones, IBM's Big Green Linux initiative and Intel's Lesswatts.org; and a dot-org effort, the Linux Foundation's Green Linux Initiative.

In August 2007, IBM launched its Big Green Linux initiative, intended to help its clients integrate Linux into the enterprise “as a way to reduce costs and energy consumption by building cooler data centers”, says IBM. Big Green Linux is a subset of Project Big Green, a broader initiative to reduce energy consumption in the data center, both internally and for its clients. Although sparse to date, some of the Big Green Linux initiatives have included improved data-center ergonomics, encouraging server consolidation onto System p servers and System z mainframes, expanding on Linux innovations like the tickless kernel and collaboration on power management with the Linux community.

Intel is another IT titan trying to go green at both the processor and application levels. The firm readily admits that its green innovations historically have been further ahead on the hardware side than the software side. For instance, Intel first focused power management improvements on the mobile Centrino processor and is now migrating those technologies to server platforms. Regrettably, the advantageous hardware engineering often exists but remains unexploited.

In order to bridge the gulf between hardware and software development, Intel created Lesswatts.org. The site is a nexus of collaboration on projects that “drive improvements in power consumption that will lead to a cleaner environment and allow companies to spend less money powering their IT infrastructure.”

Some of the projects included on Lesswatts.org are:

  • PowerTOP: a Linux-based tool that helps find programs that are needlessly consuming extra power when a computer is idle, as well as the magnitude of overconsumption.

  • Power Policy Manager: a layered, system-wide power policy framework that provides a way for users to select multiple power policies to fit their systems.

  • Processor Power Management: a project to leverage the power management features of Intel processors fully. Lesswatts.org contains all the features, solutions and enhancements related to processor power management. One example is the Intel Dynamic Acceleration Technology, which allows one processor core to deliver extra performance while the other core is idle.

  • Display and Graphics Power Saving: a project that aims to exploit the power-saving features of Intel's graphics chipsets without sacrificing performance.

Besides those listed above and several other projects, Lesswatts.org contains numerous power-saving documents, whitepapers and tips, such as utilizing the Aggressive Link Power Management feature on SATA controllers or utilizing Gigabit Ethernet only when a system needs it.

Lesswatts.org is directed by Intel's Open Source Technology Center, the firm's nexus of Linux and open-source initiatives.

Over on the dot-org side of things is the Linux Foundation's (LF) Green Linux Initiative. The Linux Foundation is a product of the 2007 fusion of Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group, whose mission is to support Linus Torvalds' and other efforts that move Linux forward technologically and out in the field. According to Amanda McPherson, LF's Director of Marketing, LF was inspired to set up a Green Linux Workgroup in June 2007, at its Collaboration Summit, where “concern for the planet [and] power management emerged as a top project to work on.” LF, says McPherson, is pleased with how the tickless kernel, PowerTOP and other projects have progressed, adding that “developments by the community have been very impressive over the last few years” and that enterprises are gradually adopting them as the technologies are supported in the conservative enterprise distributions. “Enterprises are understandably cautious about upgrading kernel/distribution versions and taking advantage of new features. As time goes on, these features will be used more and more.” The Green Group is ramped up or down according to project needs and will ramp up again this-coming June to address potential new issues, such as “Energy Star compliance and better optimization of device drivers for power management.” McPherson also cited the importance of Intel and IBM “rallying behind this topic” to move it forward.


James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.