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Apple, cloud computing, and enterprise supply chain management

Solar power

Apple’s recent announcements around renewables and supply chain transparency, put the major cloud providers to shame.

Apple had a couple of interesting announcements last week. The first was that they were investing $848m in a 130MW solar farm being built by First Solar in California. With this investment, Apple enters into a 25 year power purchase agreement with the solar farm, guaranteeing income for the solar farm, and securing Apple’s energy bills for the next 25 years in California. According to First Solar this is the largest agreement in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user, and it will provide enough energy for Apple to fully power its headquarters, operations and retail stores in California, with renewable energy.

For it’s data centers, which hosts Apple’s iCloud, App Store, and iTunes content, Apple uses 100% locally generated, renewable energy. It’s Maiden, North Carolina data centre, for example, uses a combination of biogas fuel cells and two 20‑megawatt solar arrays — the largest privately owned renewable energy installation in the US, according to Apple. And it is now investing another $55 million in a third, 100-acre 17.5MW plant for the facility. You can find details of Apple’s other data centre facilities, and how they are powered by renewables, here.

Apple's Maiden Data Center Solar Array

Apple’s Maiden NC Data Center Solar Array

The second announcement from Apple was the publication of its 2015 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report (highlights here, full PDF here). Apple has been criticised in the past for workers rights violations in its supply chain, so it is good to see Apple taking very real steps, positive, to address this. The amout of detail, the steps taken, and the levels of transparency in the report are impressive.

On underage labour, for instance, Apple’s policy requires that

any supplier found hiring underage workers fund the worker’s safe return home. Suppliers also have to fully finance the worker’s education at a school chosen by the worker and his or her family, continue to pay the worker’s wages, and offer the worker a job when he or she reaches the legal age. Of more than 1.6 million workers covered in 633 audits in 2014, 16 cases of underage labor were discovered at six facilities — and all were successfully remediated.

Apple also has strict policies around work week hours, health and safety, sourcing of conflict minerals, and the environment. In order to increase its transparency, Apple publishes its Supplier Code of Conduct, its Supplier Responsibility Standards, its Conflict Minerals Standard, as well as a list of its smelter suppliers and its top 200 suppliers amongst other documents. And Apple’s comprehensive list of environmental reports are published here.

What does this have to do with cloud computing and the enterprise supply chain management?

Well, Apple recently partnered with IBM in order to expand its userbase into the enterprise space. And it has opened its iWork office suite to anyone with an Apple ID, no Apple device required – though this was long overdue.

Comparing Apple’s cloud offerings to actual enterprise cloud players (or any cloud players, for that matter), you see there’s a yawning chasm in terms of transparency, reporting, and commitment to renewables.

Of the main enterprise cloud players:

  • Microsoft publish their Citizenship Report here [PDF]. And while it is a decent enough report, it doesn’t go into anything like the level of detail that Apple does. On page 53 of this report Microsoft mention that 47% of the energy it purchases is renewable. It does purchase renewable energy certificates for the other 53% so it can report that it is carbon neutral.
  • Google doesn’t produce a corporate sustainability report. Instead it has this page which outlines some of the work it does in the community. Information on Google’s energy breakdown is sparse. What is published is found on the Google Green site, where we find that although Google has many investments in renewable energy, and Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, Google’s actual percentage of renewables is only 35%.
  • IBM has a good history of producing corporate reports (though it still hasn’t published its report for 2014). However on the energy conservation section of IBM’s corporate report, IBM reports that sources 17% of its electricity came from renewable sources in 2013. However, they go on to note that this does not include the energy data of Softlayer – IBM’s cloud platform.
  • Cloud Providers Energy and Transparency

  • And finally, Amazon, who have arguably the largest cloud computing footprint of any of the providers, is the worst performer in terms of reporting, and likely in terms of emissions. The only page where Amazon mentions emissions, claims that it has three carbon neutral regions, but fails to say how they have achieved this status (or whether they are third party audited as such). The same page also claims that “AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint” but it fails to give any time frame for this commitment, or any other details on how it plans to get there.

Taking into account last November’s historic deal between the US and China on carbon reductions, and the upcoming Paris Climate Change Conference in December this year (2015), where there are very likely to be binding international agreements on carbon reductions. This will lead inevitably to increased requirements for CO2 reporting from the supply chain.

With that in mind, including the % renewable energy as one of the factors when choosing a cloud provider, would be a very wise move.

UPDATE:
As pointed out to me on Twitter:

In that case, you could always go with GreenQloud. GreenQloud bill themselves as a drop-in AWS replacement and being based in Iceland their electricity is 100% renewable.

Photo credit NAIT

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Technology for Good – episode twenty seven with SalesForce’s Peter Coffee

Welcome to episode twenty seven of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had SalesForce‘s Vice President of Strategic Research, Peter Coffee as the guest on our show.

We have met a talked with Peter a couple of times, and have always been impressed by the breadth of his knowledge, as well as his thoughts on things environmental. Also having seen that, when asked to come up with a challenge for the Cap Gemini Super Techies Show, he went with…

Present a technology vision for taking an existing bicycle manufacturer and retailer to the next level as a transportation option

 

… we were very keen to have Peter as a guest on the show.

We covered some fascinating stories on the show, including the White House’s plan to use technology to unleash data to help America’s agriculture sector, how Facebook’s Internet.org is helping people get online in Zambia, and a new initiative to help parents do simple science experiments at home with their kids.

Here is the full list of stories that we covered in this week’s show:

Climate

 

Transport

Apps/Mobile

Apps/Cloud

Crowdsourcing

Security

Open technologies

Moore’s Law

Diversity

Education

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Microsoft powering more of their Cloud from renewables

Wind Turbine

We’ve mentioned the issue of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with cloud computing once or twice in the past, and we’ve even ranked cloud computing companies based on their emissions. Obviously not all cloud companies report on their emissions (shame on you Amazon), and consequently those that don’t are at the bottom of the rankings.

In looking at cloud computing providers Microsoft ranked very highly. According to the EPA, Microsoft is the third highest user of renewable energy in the US (and Google is fifth).

We in GreenMonk, were delighted therefore to see Microsoft continue that commitment when they announced that they will purchase 175 megawatts of wind energy from the Pilot Hill Wind Project in Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago, as part of a 20-year agreement. This is the second wind power purchase agreement Microsoft has signed, and only one of their many emissions reductions projects.

Kudos to Microsoft for the far-sighted investment. As organisations are beginning to realise the risks associated with their cloud supply chain, opaque cloud suppliers like AWS and SoftLayer will be abandoned for more responsible, transparent, risk-free suppliers like Microsoft.

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Technology for Good – episode twenty four with GE CTO Jeremiah Stone

Welcome to episode twenty four of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had GE’s CTO for Digital Energy Jeremiah Stone as the guest on our show. We have recorded videos with Jeremiah previously, and they’ve always gone well, so we were reasonably confident this one would be good too, and it was. Given Jeremiah’s work in Digital Energy, not surprisingly we had several good conversations around Electricity 2.0 and smart grids as well as the regular Cloud, wearables and Internet of Things topics.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Cloud

Apps

Wearables

Comms

Internet of Things

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Ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things, and the discovery of sound

Sounds of East Lansing photo

I had a really interesting, wide-ranging, conversation with SalesForce’s VP for Strategic Research, Peter Coffee the other day.

A lot of our conversation revolved around how recent changes in the Internet of Things space, in ubiquitous computing, and in Big Data and analytics area are enabling profound effects on how we interact with the world.

Peter had a superb analogy – that of sound travelling through air. When sound is generated, it is transmitted from the source to the surrounding air particles, which vibrate or collide and pass the sound energy along to our ears. Without any air particles to vibrate, we wouldn’t hear the sound (hence there is no sound in space).

As you enter our planet’s atmosphere from space you start to encounter molecules of air. The more molecules there are, the better they can interact and the more likely they are to transmit sound.

If you hadn’t experienced air before, you might not be aware of the existence of sound. It is unlikely you would even predict that there would be such a thing as sound.

In a similar way, in the late eighties, when very few people had mobile phones, it would have been nigh on impossible to predict the emergence of the mobile computing platforms we’re seeing now, and the advances they’ve brought to things like health, education and access to markets (and cat videos!).

And, we are just at the beginning of another period when massive change will be enabled. This time by pervasive connectivity. And not just the universal connectivity of people which mobile phones has enabled, but the connectivity of literally everything that is being created by low cost sensors and the Internet of Things.

We are already seeing massive data streams now coming from expensive pieces of equipment such as commercial jets, trains, and even wind turbines.

But with the drastic fall in the price of the technologies, devices such as cars, light bulbs, even toothbrushes that were never previously, are now being instrumented and connected to the Internet.

This proliferation of (typically cloud) connected devices will allow for massive shifts in our ability to generate, analyse, and act on, data sets that we just didn’t have before now.

When we look at the concept of the connected home, for example. Back in 2009 when we in GreenMonk were espousing the Electricity 2.0 vision, many of the technologies to make it happen, hadn’t even been invented. Now, however, not only are our devices at home increasingly becoming connected, but technology providers like Apple, Google, and Samsung are creating platforms to allow us better manage all our connected devices. The GreenMonk Electricity 2.0 vision is now a lot closer to becoming reality.

We are also starting to see the beginnings of what will be seismic upheavals in the areas of health, education, and transportation.

No-one knows for sure what the next few years will bring, but it is sure going to be an exciting ride as we metaphorically discover sound, again and again, and again.

Photo credit Matt Katzenberger

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Technology for Good – episode twenty with Sam Johnston

Welcome to episode twenty of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had Sam Johnston Director, Cloud & IT Services at Equinix, as a guest on the show. Sam is an old friend, so we had a lot of fun discussing this week’s crop of stories. This week was relatively quiet on the technology front – whether that’s a hangover from last week’s Sapphirenow and Apple WWDC, or the World Cup, I’m not sure, but still we found plenty to talk about; especially on the health, IoT and wearables fronts.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Cloud

Open

Wearables

Health

Internet of Things (IoT)

Apps

I.T.

Misc

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Technology for Good – episode seventeen with Chris Kernaghan

Welcome to episode seventeen of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s episode we had SAP Cloud Architect Chris Kernaghan as a guest on the show. Chris is an old friend, and a fellow Irishman, so we had a great craic (a great time) discussing the stories, which were quite diverse this week, but primarily from the Internet of Things, and Connectivity spaces.

Here are the stories that we discussed in this week’s show:

Climate

Renewables

Sustainability

Connectivity

Internet of Things

Cloud

Transportation

Mobile

Wearables

Misc

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Technology for Good – episode 12

Welcome to episode twelve of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show we had two guests Chris Adams, and Kartik Kanakasabesan. Given the week that was in it with the Heartbleed bug, and the Samsung releases, there were plenty of stories around security and Wearables.

Here’s the stories that we discussed in the show:

Climate

Energy

Cloud

Wearables

Security

Internet of Things (IoT)

Misc

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Cloud computing and supply chain transparency

Supply chains? Yawn, right?

While supply chains may seem boring, they are of vital importance to organisations, and their proper management can make, or break companies.

Some recent examples of where poorly managed supply chains caused at best, serious reputational damage for companies include the Apple Computers child labour and workers suicide debacle; the Tesco horse meat scandal; and Nestlé’s palm oil problems.

What does this have to do with Cloud computing?

Well, last week, here in GreenMonk we published a ranking of cloud computing companies and their use of renewables. Greenqloud, Windows Azure, Google, SAP and Rackspace all come out of it quite well.

On the other hand, IBM and Oracle didn’t fare well in the study due to their poor commitment to renewables. But, at least they are reasonably transparent about it. Both organisations produce quite detailed corporate responsibility reports, and both report their emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project. So if you are sourcing your cloud infrastructure from Oracle or IBM, you can at least find out quite easily where the dirty energy powering your cloud is coming from.

Amazon however, does neither. It doesn’t produce any corporate responsibility reports and it doesn’t publish its emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project. This is particularly egregious given that Amazon is, by far the largest player in this market.

Amazon’s customers are taking a leap of faith by choosing Amazon to host their cloud. They have no idea where Amazon is sourcing the power to run their servers. Amazon could easily be powering their server farms using coal mined by Massey Energy, for example. Massey Energy, as well as having an appalling environmental record, is the company responsible for the 2010 West Virginia mining disaster which killed 29 miners, or Amazon could be using oil extracted from Tar sands. Or there could be worse in Amazon’s supply chain. We just don’t know, because Amazon won’t tell us.

This has got to be worrisome for Amazon’s significant customer base which includes names like Unilever, Nokia and Adobe, amongst many others. Imagine what could happen if Greenpeace found out… oh wait.

Just a couple of weeks ago US enterprise software company Infor announced at Amazon’s Summit that it plans to build it’s CloudSuite offerings entirely on Amazon’s AWS. As I tweeted last week, this is a very courageous move on Infor’s part

All the more brave given that Infor will be using Amazon to host the infrastructure of Infor’s own customer base. “Danger, Will Robinson!”

This lack of supply chain transparency is not sustainable. Amazon’s customers won’t tolerate the potential risk to their reputations and if Amazon are unwilling to be more transparent, there are plenty of other cloud providers who are.

Image credits failing_angel

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Technology for Good – episode eleven

Welcome to episode eleven of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show our special guest was unable to make it due to looming deadlines, so I did the show solo. Given the week that was in it with Microsoft’s Build conference taking place, there were plenty of stories stemming from Microsoft’s various announcements, but there was also a ton of other news, as always.

Here’s the stories that I discussed in the show:

Climate

Cloud

Renewables

WiFi

Apps

Social

Internet of Things

Open

Misc