Thomas Edison is best known for inventing the light bulb but less people are aware that his Edison Electric Illuminating Company also built the first power plant. Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan had a single generator that could power 800 light bulbs when the switch was first flicked in 1882.
Little more than a year later, the plant was powering almost 13,000 bulbs, and by the end of the 19th century electricity was becoming commoditised in major cities.
In IT today, major vendors share a Utopian dream where technology is switched on and off as easily as power, according to demand. But as the IT industry continues to move towards this utility model, albeit slowly, the electricity that powers it can no longer be taken for granted.
Spiralling costs associated with power consumption and cooling are now a well documented concern in the enterprise and, according to a recent survey published by the Uptime Institute, an economic crisis is looming for datacentres.
Almost half (42 per cent) of more than 300 enterprise datacentre managers surveyed said their sites would exceed power capacity in 12-24 months unless they expanded. A further 23 per cent expected to face the same problem within five years.
Cooling concerns returned similar results with 39 per cent predicting they would exceed cooling capacity within two years.
It's only fair to point out that Uptime has a vested interest in the results given that datacentre optimization consulting to major enterprise is its core business. But some of the claims it makes are very worrying indeed. For example, power and cooling costs for a $3000 server will exceed the price of the hardware within two years. To put that in perspective, the box was worth 10-15 years' site costs less than eight years ago.
In the US market, Uptime also said growth in datacentre energy consumption rates is likely to outstrip the rate at which power plants are approved and built, which raises the possibility of energy restrictions.
It's important to remember that this is a global problem and larger datacenters in the local market are facing the same issues. As supply and demand pressures force energy costs up, power and cooling will soon enough become a major headache for much smaller operations.
IT manufacturers are continuing to develop more energy-efficient products, and those who install them are optimising the ways in which those products are used, but user education is still incredibly important because there remains a large gap between policy and practice.
The IT industry as a whole, and the channel in particular, has a major role to play in providing that education.