Paul Krugman talks about the rise of Bit Miles

Paul Krugman is a famous NY Times columnist. I did a double take when I saw the title of a recent piece: Bits, Bands and Books. He is talking our language:

Bit by bit, everything that can be digitized will be digitized, making intellectual property ever easier to copy and ever harder to sell for more than a nominal price. And we’ll have to find business and economic models that take this reality into account.

Krugman talks to the new business model challenges involved, and he is right to do so. But I think he could usefully think about the green (cutting waste by not overprovisioning and shipping physical goods) arguments behind a Long Tail, digital everything world.

Ironically the open source business model he describes is a lot like RedMonk’s.

Right now, publishers make as much from a Kindle download as they do from the sale of a physical book. But the experience of the music industry suggests that this won’t last: once digital downloads of books become standard, it will be hard for publishers to keep charging traditional prices.

Indeed, if e-books become the norm, the publishing industry as we know it may wither away. Books may end up serving mainly as promotional material for authors’ other activities, such as live readings with paid admission. Well, if it was good enough for Charles Dickens, I guess it’s good enough for me.


Is SaaS Green?

Back of envelope calculations

Is a hosted app more Green than hosting your own? Is Software as a Service (SaaS) more environmentally than the more traditional models?

I contacted a number of SaaS vendors (who, admittedly, may have a vested interest in this!) but the answers were a resounding yes.

Chris Yeh, for example, from PBWiki did some quick back of the envelop calculations and replied with:

PBwiki hosts 500,000+ wikis on a total of 20 servers
If a server consumes 200 watts of power, that’s 1.75 megawatt hours/server/year (200*24*365)
According to Sun’s Dave Douglas (, that’s the equivalent of 1.17 tons of carbon dioxide per year, or driving an SUV 2,300 miles
That means PBwiki could be saving the world up to 585,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, or the equivalent of driving an SUV around the world 50,000 times!

Now, obviously not all 500,000 hosted PBWiki’s are replacing an individual server but say 100 PBWikis replaces one server, or 1,000. That’s still somewhere between 600 and 6,000 tons of CO2 PBWiki are saving the planet per annum.

Anyone got harder numbers than that around the energy efficiency of SaaS?


IPv6: Towards a Greener Internet

As you probably know by now, we’re very interested in the idea of what might constitute a green API or protocol, so I was very interested when I received a link via twitter from @Straxus (Ryan Slobojan).

The Aon Scéal? (That’s Any News in Gaelic) blog by Alastrain McKinstry points to this piece by Yves Poppe which argues that IPv6 could save 300 Megawatts.

Easy to forget that most mobile devices used by Time Square revelers were behind IPv4 NAT’s and that always on applications such as Instant Messaging, Push e-mail, VoIP or location based services tend to be electricity guzzlers. It so happens that applications that we want always to be reachable have to keep sending periodic keepalive messages to keep the NAT state active. Why is that so? The NAT has an inactivity timer whereby, if no data is sent from your mobile for a certain time interval, the public port will be assigned to another device.

You cannot blame the NAT for this inconvenience, after all, its role in live is to redistribute the same public addresses over and over; if it detects you stopped using the connection for a little while, too bad, you lose the routable address and it goes to someone else. And when a next burst of data communication comes, guess what? It doesn’t find you anymore. Just think of a situation we would loose our cell phone number every time it is not in use and get a new one reassigned each time.

Nokia carried out the original study. Good work Nokia researcher guys! Another way of looking at the saved energy, which I think we’d all vote for, is potentially longer battery life of our mobile access devices. I am sure the folks at Nortel, who are so enthusiastically driving the green agenda for competitive advantage, would be interested in this research, and quite honestly its one of the first arguments I have heard that makes me think ah yes IPv6 lets pull the trigger. There are some good skeptical arguments in the comments here, but on balance I can definitely see the value of the initial research. Its surely worth further study.

While writing this article I also came across the rather excellent Green IT/Broadband blog. The author clearly believes in our Bit Miles concept, even if he doesn’t call it that.

Governments around the world are wrestling with the challenge of how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The current preferred approaches are to impose “carbon” taxes and implement various forms of cap and trade or carbon offset systems. However another approach to help reduce carbon emission is to “reward” those who reduce their carbon footprint rather than imposing draconian taxes or dubious cap and trade systems. It is estimated that consumers control or influence over 60% of all CO2 emissions. As such, one possible reward system of trading “bits and bandwidth for carbon” is to provide homeowners with free fiber to the home or free wireless products and other electronic services such as ebooks and eMovies if they agree to pay a premium on their energy consumption which will encourage them to reduce emissions by turning down the thermostat or using public transportation. Not only does the consumer benefit, but this business model also provides new revenue opportunities for network operators, optical equipment manufacturers, and eCommerce application providers.

European IPv6 Day, hosted by the EU is on the 30th May. Come to think about it the guy I should talk to about green IP is Vint Cerf of Google.


McAfee goes Green in Vegas!

So it appears you can go green in Vegas, beyond all my cynicism and that of others. I just came across some really interesting news from McAfee about its approach to greener conferences in that benighted location.

“Greening Kickoff,” an innovative project to minimize, rigorously measure and offset the environmental impact of a large corporate event in Las Vegas. The project, which focused on McAfee’s annual Sales Kickoff meeting as a pilot effort, reduced non-air travel carbon emissions by 16% while offsetting the remaining 1,865 metric tons of carbon emissions through support of reforestation projects.

I am not a big fan of offsetting, but I am a fan of reforestation. What I particularly like about McAfee’s approach here is that its not about warm and fuzzies, but real measurement and monitoring. It brought in a third party, ICF International, to audit its activities. The results? McAfee claims to reduced the event’s carbon footprint by 16% of its total non-air travel emissions. What else?

  • 25 metric tons saved by facilitating the sharing of rooms by participants
  • 3.2 metric tons and 56,357 gallons of water saved through participation in the hotel’s towel and sheet reuse program
  • 0.5 metric tons saved by providing a shuttle for airport and event transfers rather than travel by individual taxicabs
  • 0.5 metric tons saved by eliminating bottled water and providing tap water only
  • The carbon footprint of the overall event was approximately 1,856 metric tons of CO2, or 1.03 metric tons of CO2 per event attendee
  • 90% of the event’s carbon footprint resulted from air travel to and from the event
  • Excluding air travel, of the remaining 10% of the event’s carbon footprint, the breakdown was as follows: food (35%), hotel rooms (33%), amenities (19%), facility use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) (5%), solid waste (4%) and the event’s conference center (3%)

Well done McAfee- but I have to say I am really disappointed I didn’t come across this earlier. It would have been amazing to have someone come to talk to our free EnergyCamp unconference on Monday about the apppoach – particularly given the Vegas angle.


IBM, Big Green, Rational and Eco-aware Programming

I am at an event at IBM South Bank looking at some data center futures. The current session is with Christopher O’Connor, vice-president strategy and market management, Tivoli, who just raised an issue that I have been thinking about a lot lately. Just what will it mean to develop greener software? What would a green API look like? As usual- better performance is one answer to the problem.  Lean is Green.

Chris said that Rational, IBM’s software development tools and process organisation, is now looking at “green aware programming”. Good job. Chris mentioned one immediate area of concern – “the fetch”. That is – code that keeps calling a database tends to be performance intensive, and indentifying fetch bottlenecks could be a great step towards writing code that consumes less power. We’re talking about heat maps for code.

It will be interesting to see more about the Rational approach, and I will make an effort to do just that. But for now, its just good to report that IBM is thinking deeply about the problem and developing tools to support its findings.

On that note I am beginning to wonder if beautiful code is green code. Code generation tends to generate pretty ugly code – but is it less efficient?  Developers that write beautiful code may end up in great demand for their green coding: but this is pure conjecture at this point…


Bit Miles: How Company Reports Hurt the Planet

paper instructions

Just after introducing the idea of “Bit Miles” I went to a great session by David Douglas, who heads up Sun’s eco-efforts. I could have got about 50 greenmonk posts out of his one hour session, but to just call out one insight we should applaud Sun’s decisions to get out of the needless dead tree-shipping business in creating its annual report. Other Fortune 500 companies please take note.

According to Douglas Sun is on a relentless mission to reduce the amount of paper it uses. For example its not going to send out any mail to folks attending Java One… But it was the facts on company reports that really caught my attention.

The SEC’s decision that companies don’t need to print annual reports is fantastic.

Sun just stopped printing 99million sheets of paper. That’s 11000 trees, and millions of gallons of fresh water.

Actually i need to check this with Dave – sounds too high for one company, even with many shareholders. But think about it. How many company reports are just skimmed. We have a responsibility to take this once a year communication online.