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.