Energy efficient software

18 April 2012

Oxford computer scientists are perfecting a system to profile the energy consumption of your computer software, allowing you to use less energy, thus reducing your carbon footprint.

Developing a framework that will be of particular interest to computer intensive businesses and university researchers, the developers believe that they will be able to significantly improve energy consumption without affecting performance.

James Martin Fellow Jeyan Thiyagalingam, at the Oxford Martin School’s Institute for the Future of Computing, is working with researchers in the Oxford e-Research Centre. He explained his work.

“The software that you use can determine the amount of energy consumed, and different software packages consume more or less energy. Therefore, the way that we develop the software matters. As we look to the future, energy consumption will become as important a consideration as performance. To this end, we have developed a means for quantifying and analysing the energy consumption of software.”

Until recently, computer performance has been in the driving seat, ensuring that computations are run as quickly as possible whatever that may mean for energy consumption. Energy consumption and the associated CO2 emissions were highlighted by the recent Greenpeace International report which suggested that the CO2 emissions by computing alone far exceed that of airlines, and that the energy consumption of some computing sites are in the range of several megawatts (MW), which is sufficient enough to power a small village.

Thiyagalingam remarked, “Optimising the energy consumption of computing systems is not a new challenge. However, traditionally this has been left to hardware and systems manufacturers and little has been done from the software side.”

His profiling framework has been provisionally called EMPPACK (Energy Measurement and Profiling Package). EMPPACK facilitates energy profiling of software applications by using power sensors. The readings from the sensors are logged to the EMPPACK database and associated to different software actions. Then, by carefully optimising the software or underlying algorithms, it is possible to minimise the energy consumption.

This framework still has to be given what Thiyagalingam describes as its ‘aesthetic user interface,’ to make it easy to use, after which he is hoping that it will take software to a new level in energy efficiency.

Read more about the Institute for the Future of Computing

Read more about the Greenpeace report