Monday, November 03, 2008

internet energy consumption 2

This is a follow-up to my post of 29 October. After having watched the Newsnight programme I can only conclude that matters are still vague if not sketchy with regard to a "green Internet". The key terms (buzzwords / -phrases) are "cloud computing", "virtualisation", and "follow the moon". The first two you´ve probably heard about by now, since they have been bandied about for at least the past 18+ months.
Since I´ve always written my blog with a non-specialist audience in mind, that audience-notion now becomes muddled as I have the postings fed on over to the feed at the OII. But let me explain anyway, in a way that I might have done had I still been teaching undergraduate ICT courses.

  1. Recall the early mainframes-and-dumb-terminals computing model. Now transfer that notion to the Web, where we now have Web services (think Gmail, GoogleDocs, etc). Cloud computing differs from Web services (conceptually) in so far as the number and diversity of services that can be delivered from "the cloud".
  2. Virtualisation can be understood as the maximisation of computing resources (at the level of the platform, processing resources, and/or application) (think here "one box, delivering many and disparate services or functions).
  3. The term "follow the moon" can be understood as a way in which to distribute energy-hungry computer processing to areas of the planet where energy-demand is at its relative lowest e.g. if demand for computer processing is high, say in daytime London, let the energy needs for that processing be met from a spot anywhere on the planet where it is night-time. (Two additional methods not mentioned in the tv programme, were "follow the sun", and "follow the law". See more on this in Kevin Kelly´s post.)
  4. Another option proferred in the programme was the location of server farms on (very) cold spots on the planet e.g. Iceland, which does away with the need to manufacture cooling of these farms.
So can we imagine then a world where all of the above solutions were applied? And if so, would that lead to significant reductions in CO2 emissions from the Internet industries and our collective computing activities? That still has to be demonstrated. For now, what is said is that already the CO2 emissions from our computing activities equal that of the car manufacturing industry, and are set to match those of the airline industry in 2020.

As an aside: Cloud computing is not uncontroversial. See, for instance, the piece "Cloud computing is a trap, warns GNU founder Richard Stallman (The Guardian newspaper)"

See also: Guide To Cloud Computing (InformationWeek) ; Virtualization (Wikipedia).

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