Can we hack open source #cloud platforms to help reduce emissions?

RedMonk runs two conferences a year – Monki Gras in London in late January/early February and Monktoberfest in Portland, Maine in early October.

At this year’s Monktoberfest I gave a talk titled “Can we hack open source #cloud platforms to help reduce emissions?” to an audience which consisted almost entirely of developers and the feedback I received was consistently positive. The slides for the talk are above and I’ll post the video as soon as it is available, along with a transcription.

My presentation was fairly straightforward – it was a call to action. I first outlined the problem – most cloud computing companies are not publishing data around their energy or (more importantly) their emissions. Those that are, are not publishing it in enough detail, or are publishing the wrong data (carbon saved, as opposed to carbon emitted). I also pointed out that energy use is not a proxy for emissions – the amount of emissions the important metric to track.

Why don’t cloud computing companies disclose their emissions? It is probably a combination of not wanting to give away competitive intelligence, not wanting to be viewed as a polluter, and there being no agreed reporting standards around this area.

Then I pointed out a quick recap of the year 2012 to-date with all of the wildfires, floods, droughts, temperature records, and unprecedented ice loss in the arctic. I know these aren’t solely caused by cloud computing, but it is a significant contributor (estimates from Gartner in 2007 put the amount at 2% of global emissions – and that number is highly likely to have increased since then).

The solution – I proposed a fairly straightforward solution. Hack the currently available open source cloud platforms (Eucalyptus, CloudStack and OpenStack), write emissions measurement and reporting patches. Get the patches accepted back into the core so that when the next update of the software is pushed out, the companies using the three platforms will at a stroke, have energy and reporting capabilities. At that point customer demand should ensure that they make this info public (or at least available to their customers).

I concluded by noting that adding emissions metrics and reporting to cloud computing platforms will reduce emissions – and then asking the audience “Ok, so who’s up for it?”

During the Q&A, Andy Piper rightly pointed out that it would have been appropriate for me to mention the Cleanweb Manifesto in my talk and he was absolutely correct. Next time I give the talk I will point it out and urge people to sign it.

Use open source platforms to find cloud computing’s energy and emissions footprint


Regular GreenMonk readers will be very aware that I am deeply skeptical about claims that Cloud Computing is Green (or even energy efficient). And that I talk about the significant carbon, water and biodiversity effects cloud computing can have.

One of the biggest issues with any claims of Cloud Computing being energy efficient, or Green, is the lack of transparency from the Cloud Computing providers. None Almost none of them are publishing any data around the energy consumption, or emissions of their Cloud infrastructure (article updated from “None of them” to “Almost none of them…” after comments from Memset and Greenqloud in the comments section below). Without data to back them up, any claims of Cloud computing being efficient are worthless.

Last week, while at the RackSpace EMEA Analyst day, we were given a potted history of OpenStack, RackSpace’s Cloud Computing platform. OpenStack was jointly developed by NASA and RackSpace and they open-sourced it with an Apache License in July 2010.

Anyone can download OpenStack and use it to create and host Cloud Computing solutions. Prominent OpenStack users include NASA, RackSpace (not surprisingly), AT&T, Deutsche Telecom, HP and IBM.

What has this got to do with Cloud Computing and energy efficiency I hear you ask?

Well, it occurred to me, during the analyst day, that because OpenStack is open source, anyone can fork it and write a version with built-in energy and emissions reporting. What would be really cool is, if this functionality, having been written, became a part of the core distribution – then anyone deploying OpenStack, would have this functionality by default.

And, OpenStack isn’t the only open source Cloud platform – there are two others that I’m aware of – Citrix’s CloudStack and Eucalyptus. Having the software written for one open-source platform, should allow reasonably easy porting to the other two.

Of course, with the software written as open-source, there could be constant improvement of it. And as part of one of the cloud platforms, it should achieve widespread distribution quickly.

Having energy and emissions information available, will also allow inefficiencies in Cloud infrastructure to be quickly identified and fixed.

So, the next step is to get someone to write the software – anyone up for it?

Or, what are the chances of getting someone like HP, IBM, RackSpace, or even NASA to sponsor a hackathon whose aim is to develop such software?

Photo Credit Jeremy Burgin