Startup sees boost after Japan quake

April 27, 2011
A heat map displaying downloads of MiserWare software in Japan since the earthquake hit on March 11, 2011. Graphic shows downloads as of April 7, 2011. REUTERS/HO/MiserWare

A heat map displaying downloads of MiserWare software in Japan since the earthquake hit on March 11, 2011. Graphic shows downloads as of April 7, 2011. REUTERS/HO/MiserWare

Blacksburg, Virginia is far from the epicenter of the earthquakes that have rocked Japan over the last six weeks, but resident Kirk Cameron has felt the virtual aftershocks.

Days after the magnitude 9.0 shaker hit, Cameron’s startup MiserWare tripled the number of downloads for its proprietary Granola energy-saving software.

“Before (the quake) Japan accounted for about 5 percent of our downloads in a day and now they’re more like 20 to 30 percent,” said Cameron, who prior to the quake averaged about 25 daily downloads. “Now we’ve basically covered the entire island.”

The software has clearly resonated with Japanese PC users desperate to keep their computers running longer and preserve their generators, as authorities urged a crackdown in energy usage following the quake that wreaked havoc on the power grid. Cameron said there have been more than 35,000 downloads of his software in Japan since the quake.

Cameron, who maintains his day job as a computer science professor at Virginia Tech University, said his software – available only for PC – is free to download (up to a maximum of 5) and runs in the background, so is virtually invisible. It provides an energy savings of 10 to 40 percent per computer and extends battery life.

“We treat your computer like it has a dimmer switch,” said Cameron, using the example of adjusting the light in your room depending on whether you’re reading or watching a movie. “You’re doing Word at one moment, but then the next moment you’re playing World of Warcraft and then the next moment you’re surfing the Net. We make the energy use match what you’re doing.”

Depending upon what type of hardware Cameron’s program runs on the annual savings vary from $20-$50 for a desktop PC, to $40-$100 per server and anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour in battery life for a laptop.

Cameron first created the software to be used on a large scale in data centers, but then developed a version for individual PC users. He launched the Granola consumer product a year ago on Earth Day and has had more than 200,000 free downloads and wants to get to a million by end of year. After the initial 5 free downloads, MiserWare charges $7.99 per computer.

“If you think about it like an organization with 30,000 PCs, if we save them a very modest amount of energy they’re saving $1 million a year,” said Cameron, who since launching in 2008 has raised $1.4 million in a mix of private and public funding from venture capital firm Valhalla Partners, seed fund D’ArchAngels and in grants from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy.

Conserving PC power is not a new concept and something large corporations have wrestled with since the rise of the desktop computer, said Gene Ruth, an IT industry veteran and Gartner analyst based in Austin, Texas.

“You save 10 to 20 watts per PC and that adds up when you have thousands and thousands of PCs,” said Ruth, who noted that the current movement toward virtual desktops is partially being driven by energy savings.

One of the early adopters of MiserWare’s technology is the University of South Carolina, which is currently running the software on about 250 computers as part of a pilot project that will continue until the end of 2011.

“Our average savings is currently at 38 percent,” said Paul Sagona, one of the administrators of the program and a former classmate of one of MiserWare’s developers. Sagona added the test has saved the university 10,280 kWh and reduced CO2 output by almost 14,000 pounds in the first three months. “Just imagine what an impact it would make if Granola was on every desktop computer.”

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