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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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Why are Salesforce hiding the emissions of their cloud?

Salesforce incorrect carbon data

The lack of transparency from Cloud computing providers is something we have discussed many times on this blog – today we thought we’d highlight an example.

Salesforce dedicates a significant portion of its site to Sustainability and on “Using cloud computing to benefit our environment”. They even have nice calculators and graphs of how Green they are. This all sounds very promising, especially the part where they mention that you can “Reduce your IT emissions by 95%”, so where is the data to back up these claims? Unfortunately, the data is either inaccurate or missing altogether.

For example, Salesforce’s carbon calculator (screen shot above) tells us that if an organisation based in Europe moves its existing IT platform (with 10,000+ users) to the Salesforce cloud, it will reduce its carbon emissions by 87%.

This is highly suspect. Salesforce’s data centers are in the US (over 42% of electricity generated in the US comes from coal) and Singapore where all but 2.6% of electricity comes from petroleum and natural gas [PDF].

On the other hand, if an organisation’s on premise IT platform in Europe is based in France, it is powered roughly 80% by nuclear power which has a very low carbon footprint. If it is based in Spain, Spain generates almost 40% of its power from renewables [PDF]. Any move from there to Salesforce cloud will almost certainly lead to a significant increase in carbon emissions, not a reduction, and certainly not a reduction of 87% as Salesforce’s calculator claims above.

Salesforce incorrect carbon data

Salesforce also has a Daily Carbon Savings page. Where to start?

To begin with, the first time we took a screen shot of this page was on October 1st for slide 26 of this slide deck. The screen shot on the right was taken this morning. As you can see, the “Daily Carbon Savings” data hasn’t updated a single day in the meantime. It is now over two months out-of-date. But that’s probably just because of a glitch which is far down Salesforce’s bug list.

The bigger issue here is that Salesforce is reporting on carbon savings, not on its carbon emissions. Why? We’ve already seen (above) that their calculations around carbon savings are shaky, at best. Why are they not reporting the much more useful metric of carbon emissions? Is it because their calculations of emissions are equally shaky? Or, is it that Salesforce are ashamed of the amount of carbon they are emitting given they have sited their data centers in carbon intensive areas?

We won’t know the answer to these questions until Salesforce finally do start reporting the carbon emissions of its cloud infrastructure. In a meaningful way.

Is that likely to happen? Yes, absolutely.

When? That’s up to Salesforce. They can choose to be a leader in this space, or they can choose to continue to hide behind data obfuscation until they are forced by either regulation, or competitive pressure to publish their emissions.

If we were Salesforce, we’d be looking to lead.

Image credits Tom Raftery

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Just how green is cloud computing?

Clouds

Photo credit tipiro

Cloud computing may not be as Green as you think.

I mentioned previously that I gave a keynote presentation at the Green IT Summit in Dublin last week.

In the question and answers session after the talk, Sean Baker asked about cloud computing and whether I thought companies using cloud computing weren’t simply outsourcing their emissions.

As Gordon Smith picked up in a piece for SiliconRepublic.com, I replied that I

was ?quite sceptical? about this issue. ?None of the cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft or IBM are publishing metrics at all. Intuitively you have to think that because you?re outsourcing that to someone of that scale that they?re being more efficient but we?ve no way of knowing. Frankly, that?s worrisome. I don?t know why they?re not publishing it and I wish they would,?

This is no sudden realisation on my part. In fact, I have been concerned about Cloud Computing’s Green credentials for some time now as you can see from a series of Tweets (here, here and here, for instance) I posted on this issue in early to mid 2009.

It is vital that cloud providers start publishing their energy metrics for a number of reasons. For one, it is a competitive differentiator. But perhaps more importantly, in the absence of any provider numbers, one has to start wondering if cloud computing is in fact Green at all.

IBM, for example, are not known for being shy when given an opportunity to talk up their Green initiatives. However, on cloud, they are conspicuously silent. The same is true for Amazon, Microsoft, SalesForce and Google.

I’m not sure why cloud providers are not publishing their energy metrics but if I had to guess I would say it is related to concerns around competitive intelligence. However this is not a sustainable position (if you’ll pardon the pun).

As the regulatory landscape around emissions reporting alters and as organisations RFP’s are tending to demand more details on emissions, cloud providers who refuse to provide energy-related numbers will find themselves increasingly marginalised.

So is cloud computing Green?

I put that question toSimon Wardley, cloud strategist for Canonical in this video I recorded with him last year and he said no, cloud computing is very definitely not Green.

To be honest, until cloud providers start becoming more transparent around their utilisation and consumption numbers there is really no way of knowing whether cloud computing is in any way Green at all.

You should follow me on twitter here.