Why operating system research matters

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By 2020 home computing devices in the UK will be consuming around 7 Terra Watt Hours (TWh) of electricity every year: it was just 1 TWh in 1990.

Consumer electronic devices, all of which will be running some software and many of which will have what can loosely be described as an operating system, will be eating a massive 22 TWh, almost double where they were in 1990.

Essentially this rise of the computing machines more than matches the falls in electricity use that come from technological improvements in domestic lighting and refrigeration over this time.

Hardware improvements – more MIPS per Watt – plainly are not enough to control the growth of computing-driven power consumption.

Operating systems research has been seriously neglected in our universities in recent years (and I do not just mean in the UK): maybe that ought to be reconsidered and urgently.

How systems order their storage accesses, how they handle virtual memory, sequence their access to the network, and many more questions besides have a big impact on computing power use. And, at 29 TWh, just a 1% saving would lighten domestic bills by about £30 million. And that excludes the positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

(There is a Guadian article about this but I cannot see it on their website yet – when I can I’ll link to it.)

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