Information Technology and Coping with the Second Energy Crisis

[This post is part of the World Without Oil alternate-reality game but is completely factual.  See my posts on A Salem Blog.]

Many are barely aware of it, but we’re in what I call the Second Energy Crisis.  Some of you are old enough to remember the first Energy Crisis in the seventies.

If you’re in IT, whether small or large, the Second Energy Crisis will–no, already is–affecting you in big ways and small, not all of which are immediately obvious.

Consider the organization I work for, Salem Access Television.  We are a small non-profit cable television access facility, operating since 1994.  We broadcast on 3 channels and we serve government, citizens, students and businesses of Salem.  We are a small company, with just 3 full time employees, but because of our purpose, we have a surprisingly dense IT shop.

We have 11 client machines (mixed between Windows and Mac) and 2 servers;  we have a gigabit network and WiFi for use by vistors. 

We worry about power all the time.  We have two UPS’s but no generator;  when we were established (and before I was working in IT there), public access TV was considered more of a luxury.  It’s now a necessity.  Our one radio station no longer exists for us, our daily newspaper is managed from Lawrence and owned in Alabama.  We have just one weekly newspaper for Salem.  And SATV.

As an example of our power challenges, I’ll talk about our cablecast area.  Cablecast has the same function as the master control area in a TV station:  To organize, store and control everything that goes out over our three channels.

We have one UPS to power all of that.  Note the old-style wooden racks.  They look pretty but they are heat traps.  (We have had machines fall over and die from the heat.)  The TV monitors are regular TV sets and are among the few things left over from the original 1994 install.  Three rack-mount PC’s provide "bulletin board" announcements for each of the channels;  the fourth is used as a management console and it also provides audio from TICNetwork, the local reading service for the visually impaired.  There’s also a network server in our back room that serves all the ciient machines with Windows services, Internet access, and most importantly, remote control, notification and monitoriing.

We’re renovating this area, replacing the monitors with LCD’s and replacing the heavy wood racks with something that runs cooler.  (I have promised to be the first to break apart the old racks with a sledgehammer!)  We feed programs into the system through DVDs and VHS tapes, but in the renovation we’re getting a video server.

Again, we worry about power:

We have no generator.  Once the UPS goes out, we’re out!  We are in a congested city that has had power problems before and will most certainly have in the future.

In the Second Energy Crisis, many small IT shops face the same dilemma.  How to you keep the computers running?  How can you be "green" and stay that way?

What if your computer breaks and you can’t get a new one from Dell because there’s no oil to ship your machine to you?  Or run the factory?  What if the IT cornucopia that is Taiwan and China runs dry?  It might be the end of IT.  (Oh well, it was a good 20-year run for me.)

In the meantime, I’m doing what I can.  Configuring machines to sleep when they’re not used.  Putting monitors on standby.  Getting cooler machines (thermally cooler, though with our Macs it’s possible to be aesthetically cool as well!)

What will you do?

UPDATE:  Stories like the WABC Fire keep me up at night.  When we renovated our facility last year, we found some very scary original wiring.  Brrrrr 

I leave you with two posts from Coding Horror:  When Hardware is Free, Power is Expensive and The cost of leaving your PC on.

Take care,



Technorati tags: , , , , ,