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As economy softens, Microsoft ramps up research

Jeremy Kirk | May 11, 2009
At a lab at the University of Cambridge in England, Microsoft is studying networking, energy use and home broadband

The power difference is astounding: Scott showed the desktop computer was consuming around 85 watts of power, but with Somniloquy, it consumes only around 4 watts. That small amount of power is used to maintain the DRAM state and power Somniloquy.

"Instead of having computers as all-on or all-off we want more finer-grained tiers of functionality in the computer so that when the user is not there you don't need the graphics card on, you don't need the CPU on," Scott said.

In order to run BitTorrent or VOIP, Somniloquy would need to run application "stubs," or a stripped-down versions of an application with no user interface but capable of handling network protocols, Scott said.

Since Microsoft doesn't make networking hardware, Somniloquy might be more appropriate for companies such as Intel or Broadcom to produce, Scott said.

HomeWatcher: Microsoft's HomeWatcher is a small application that shows the amount of data downloaded and uploaded by users of a particular PC.

Consumers often don't have an easy way to monitor their broadband usage, which can cause frustration when broadband connections may not be working well, said Tim Regan, a research software development engineer.

"You don't want to know about your central heating unless you're bloody freezing -- then you do," Regan said. "It's those moments. One side of it is how do we apportion blame among ourselves. The other side is how do we become more sophisticated in what we're asking for."

As demand for bandwidth and overall broadband data consumption increases, Regan said HomeWatcher could prompt more inquisitive questions from consumers over how they manage their network.

Later this month, Microsoft plans to trial HomeWatcher in a few homes. Those testers will likely be able to mount a small screen near their computer that shows the data or can opt to use a desktop, Flash-based widget, Regan said.

Everest: This software application allows the redirection of input and output calls from one server to another. One of the advantages is that Everest allows a disk that is receiving lots of write requests to allow another disk to handle that load, either on the same server or one nearby.

"During a period of high load, the normal system can only really get about 100 requests per second for this particular brand of disk, whereas if you enable Everest, then we can get up to 200 requests per second," said Austin Donnelly, a research software design engineer. "That's quite an improvement in the request rate."

Data that is written to another server is eventually copied back to the original file server, Donnelly said. "You can think of it as opportunistic use of spare resources," he said.


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