Cloud Energy Consumption: Google, Twitter and the Systems Vendors

Yesterday Tom posed a question: just how green is cloud computing? We have been frankly disappointed by Cloud computing providers reticence to start publishing numbers on energy consumption. We know for sure that energy is a big deal when it comes to the huge data centers the likes of Facebook are building- these firms are siting data centers next to rivers to take advantage of hydro-electric power, and in Google’s case are even looking at building their own wind turbine farms.

Some of you may remember the huge fuss when Alex Wissner Gross, a researcher from Harvard University estimated how much energy the net consumed, which became a Sunday Times story about Google Searches in terms of kettles boiled. The story claimed:

performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle” or about 7g of CO2 per search

Perhaps surprisingly, Google responded, to debunk the news story:

In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2.

The story petered out- which is somewhat of a shame. A real, open debate, with shared figures, bringing in all of the main players, would clearly benefit us all. With that in mind I was pleased to see that one of Raffi Krikorian, tech lead of the Twitter API team, chose to talk about power/tweet at the company’s Chirp developer conference last week:

In summary, Raffi estimated that energy consumed is around 100 Joules per tweet.

Before jumping to a conclusion that Twitter is more efficient than Google its important to note that Raffi’s estimates, unlike Google’s, don’t include the power of the PC in the equation. You should also watch the video of his presentation – for the simple reason that Raffi seems to channel Jay-Z in his presenting: the guy’s body language is straight out of a hip hop video.

I discussed Twitter’s “disclosure” with my colleague Tom this morning. He questioned its value because its an estimate, rather than a measurement. He has a point. It may be however that Raffi is just the man to take this debate to the next level. He is clearly deeply technical, can think at the level of the isolated API – and is finally a Sustainability advocate of note- I first heard of him through his seminal How Valentine’s Day Causes Global Warming riff.

We need to encourage competition on the basis of power efficiency.

I’d like to close with a call to action. Surely its time for the major web players to get together with Dell, HP and IBM in order to agree standards so we can move from estimates to measurements of Cloud energy consumption, perhaps using AMEE ($client) as a back end for standard benchmarks. You can’t have sustainability through obscurity. Open data is key to working through the toughest environmental challenges.


Living In De-material World: On Microsoft and Bit Miles

I have written a fair bit here about Bit Miles (the moral imperative to digitise) and business process dematerialisation, so I was particularly interested in a recent trip to Microsoft’s gaming and world simulation division.

What was so relevant?

One area that I believe holds out great promise for this kind of simulation technology is in sustainable and sustainability modeling. Take the pilot training example above; while the highest cost may be for maintenance engineers, but how much fuel is being needlessly burned? Training in the real world is expensive. Moving Atoms has a cost. I have recently started talking about Bit Miles as a Greenmonk narrative, defined as is the carbon cost associated with moving a good or creating a service that could instead have been delivered digitally. Bit Miles offer us a moral imperative to digitize: a simulation of the world is a beautiful opportunity to rethink and potentially dematerialize business processes.

Why not Supply Chain Simulator ™, which would pull together all of your plant information (pulled in from OSI, say), where your people are located (Peoplesoft), and how you move goods and services (SAP) around the world? An organisation could begin to run really deep “What If” scenarios about the energy costs of their businesses with simulations like these. But what would really make these models sing is the fact they’d be visual and immersive. Telling is rarely as effective as Showing. What would a low energy manufacturing business look like? With virtual technology we could maybe work it out. At this point it might seem that I have gone off the deep end, but the ESP team inspires that in you. I didn’t see a single Powerpoint slide during my visit. Rather Shawn likes to open up people’s imaginations.

I would love to know your thoughts- there is a good discussion going on over at my monkchips blog.


The Wrong People Are Getting The Bill


In his wrap up to EnergyCamp last month, David Berlind said something which struck me strongly enough I am still thinking about it.

The main thing I have learned today is that the wrong people are paying the bill.”

David made the statement in the context that he figures we’re due a 15 year shakeout before we really get a handle on the complexity of carbon and energy consumption and production, so that we can accurately calculate costs and move beyond simplistic economics to better understand the impacts of the decisions we make.

For every believer in food miles and local sourcing there is a New Zealand meat farmer that will argue NZ is a better source of eco-friendly meat because it doesn’t use petrochemical fertilizer on fields sheep graze. Yesterday morning my friend Oliver ribbed Gregor, who was carrying a heavy bag, for using an elevator to go down one floor. Quick as a flash Gregor turned around and said: no its greener to use the lift, because he wouldn’t need to have a shower straight away…  (it was a hot Berlin day).

The current commonly cited example in the IT industry of the wrong people paying the bill is facilities management (FM) versus IT. IT doesn’t pay for its electricity. No, seriously, go to your FM manager or IT manager and ask who pays to power your IT properties. The vast majority of IT systems get a free ride on electricity bills, which is one reason its taken so long to fully consider IT carbon costs.

David’s point about the wrong people paying the bill also has a wider context which cuts into issues of sustainability and social responsibility. I was deeply disappointed when the UK Government recently announced the Climate Change aid fund its building to help emerging nations mitigate problems such as rising sea levels, or increased strong weather effects, will actually be loans rather than grants. Who is paying the bill for what here?

The current high costs of food globally, at least partly driven by the new fetish for biofuels, is bound to hurt those those that can least afford it.

Corporate budgeting and planning is generally designed to make costs external. If someone else is paying the bill that helps the bottom line. Pollute a river, and let someone else pay the cleanup costs, is “just good business”. If you think I am just being cynical I would advise you to read or watch a cold-eyed look at the icy hearted sociopath we commonly know as The Corporation

Economists and company leaders like nothing better than what they call “externalities” -basically costs that someone else has to deal with. Chewing gum is a brilliant example of externalities in action.. It costs 3p a stick, but an esimated 10p to clean it off a city street.

Another way of talking about a less simple economics is to consider Post-Autistic Economics. Autistic economics looks only at the “facts” without understanding social consequences. More heterodox thinking is now entering the mainstreal through, for example, the triple bottom line concept or broader sustainability narratives from major corporations.

The final way I want to think about the wrong people paying the bill concerns our children. The more damage we do right now, the more resources we consume, the more mess we make, the higher the clean up costs will be for the next generation. Even if you believe we can innovate our way out of trouble, large scale clean terraforming is not going to come cheap. We’re externalising the costs of our current lifestyles pretty blithely, and the wrong people are going to get the bill. Economics is many things but simple isn’t one of them. The facilities manager, people living in low lying areas such as Bangladesh, our kids: the wrong people are getting the bill.


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.


Chasing AMEE, EdenBee and the Carbon Account

As I am sure you all know by now Greenmonk is a fan of Amee, the carbon caculator’s carbon calculator – or “the World’s Energy Meter” as it styles itself. AMEE is a back end service for carbon data, with the data freely available under a CreativeCommons Attribution and Share-Alike license. Credible? Tesco, the world’s second biggest retailer, and DEFRA, the UK’s EPA, are both heavily involved. AMEE an Exemplary Open Service. And being an environmental API as well, its an Exemplary GreenMonk Service.

I realised this morning, having been invited to an interesting new social networking service called EdenBee, that I now basically use AMEE as a yes or no. If someone approaches me with news of something that has a carbon calculator that isn’t AMEE-based my default is pretty much total lack of interest. Nice related conversation here.

Later in the day someone pinged me to look at The Carbon Account.  Like EdenBee it passes the AMEE-test. I will wait until people start inviting me before I check it out though.Nice to see the “ingredients” listed – that is, what open source technologies support the site.

The only thing AMEE needs to fix is the URL. Come on guys you’re the world’s electricity meter…


Thoughts on Green SOA: a work in progress

Yesterday at IBM’s SOA Impact 2008 show in Las Vegas (my favorite eco-city) I gave my Green SOA stump pitch. Its still a work in progress, and fortunately perhaps the number of delegates was pretty low. SOA for Dummies across the hall on the other hand was packed.

What is service oriented architecture, and why is Greenmonk so dorky today? Good questions both. SOA is an approach to software development that should enable far greater flexibility than normal.  Business and technical interfaces are standardised, and stored in libraries so that services can be reused, or changed as required by the business.

Why is Greenmonk so dorky? Well, you can’t fight your nature, now can you?

My argument at the event is basically that if SOA is a means to better alignment between IT and the business, then we should also drive sustainability into the mix. Componentising services gives you freedom to leave, for example, potentially allowing you to swap a provider out for a greener, or more importantly from a bottom line perspective, more energy efficient service.

The new frontier in compliance is environmental regulations and mandates. South Korea, as I found out yesterday, already has a carbon added tax. I have written about REACH , the EU chemical reporting standard before. One quote I used, which I find pretty striking given it comes from a US oilman (not exactly a community full of bleeding heart liberals):

“The U.S. needs a strong, consistent and mandatory national framework to manage carbon emissions. One that is unencumbered by diverging state and regional initiatives. Without this framework, rising public concern over climate change threatens our energy security by contributing to further access restrictions.”

Jim Mulva, Chairman & CEO, ConocoPhillips

Environmental compliance is going to cost companies hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars over the next few years. My partner in crime at the event is a guy called Jim Bitonti, who presented about his company Evergreen Energy, its C-Lock application and partnership with IBM called GreenCert. The application, a sophisticated distributed app for greenhouse gas measurement, monitoring and management is built end to end on IBM middleware, so it was not surprising IBM asked me to collaborate with him. But regardless of platform Jim knows his stuff, and is solidly pragmatic about the opportunities and limitations of environmental compliance. I would like to see a collaboration with AMEE, and will hopefully broker a meeting between Gavin and C-Lock next week.

I realise now that I need to make the pitch more technical for n audience of SOA folks. But all in all it was a good learning experience, and I am certainly glad IBM realizes the importance of Green SOA, even if its customers are yet to catch on.


Repak launch Carbon Calculator using AMEE

We here at GreenMonk have written about AMEE several times in the past because we really support what they are doing (quick reminder – they enable any climate campaign to use a common standard for Carbon-Footprint Profiling and Measurement, for more, check out their FAQ).

Recently I’ve been delighted then to note that Repak have started to use AMEE’s services. Repak are an industry funded organisation based in Ireland. Repak was created to help grow packaging recycling in Ireland and to aid businesses comply with their legal obligations to fund the recovery and recycling of the packaging on the goods or services they supply, as set out in the Waste Management (Packaging) Regulations 2007(pdf).

Repak have just launched an easy to use household Carbon Calculator using AMEE’s backend. Answer a few quick and easy questions and you are presented with a report outlining your current carbon footprint.'s Carbon Calculator

As well as estimating your carbon footprint, you also get a comprehensive series of recommendations on ways to reduce your CO2 emissions with handy information and tips such as:

  • turn down your thermostat by just one degree – each degree drop can reduce your bill by 10%
  • think about the temperature on your immersion heater – can you reduce this by a degree or two?
  • as much as 15% energy (and CO2) savings can be achieved by turning down the brightness and contrast levels on your TV
  • a laptop, on average, consumes around 30% of the power of a desktop, whilst in ‘on-mode’.
  • a well-filled A-rated dishwasher load once a day will be more efficient than many kitchen sinks full of hot water, or a running tap, to wash many dishes
  • digital radios consume up to 5 times the energy of a traditional analogue radio.
  • travelling by rail will result in about a third of the CO2 emissions of the equivalent domestic or short-haul flight in Europe. A similar journey for two people in an average-sized car would result in under two thirds of the CO2 emissions compared with flying

This is a really cool resource to help people realise the impact their day-to-day activities are having on the environment. More importantly though the calculator goes the next logical step and gives practical advice on how to reduce those Kgs of CO2.


Data Center Energy Efficiency: money in the bank

Barclays Bank and technology provider HP have just signed a deal to roll out new cooling technology at Barclays’ new Gloucester data center. According to the press release

HP’s Dynamic Smart Cooling (DSC) solution contributes significantly to a package of energy saving measures which will allow Barclays to save up to 13.4% of total energy used for its data centre. These energy saving measures will significantly reduce its carbon footprint by approx 7470 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Barclays joined the CBI climate change task force last November. Its climate change targets for 2006-2010 include:

• Reduce CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 (using 2000 as the baseline year)
• Reduce carbon intensity from 16.8 tonnes to 12.9 tonnes CO2 per £m of UK income(using 2005 baseline.) Carbon intensity is a measure of emissions relative to business growth and it allows comparisons to be made between companies.
• Reduce energy consumption in offices and branches by 20 per cent per employee (FTE) (using 2005 as the baseline)

The data center is as good a place as any to start, but it would be interesting to hear more about Barclays energy efficiency plans for its large real estate portfolio.  I also think its a shame that Barclays isn’t putting a pounds sterling figure on potential savings. To be a beacon for others it needs to translate the technical gubbins and low carbon talk into simple bottom line improvements. Shouldn’t be that hard for a bank. On the other hand of course, your carbon mileage may vary (that is, energy prices will certainly change).

According to Greenbang the big Wall Street investment banks, in conjunction with a number of energy companies, have also made some useful progress in establishing best practices for energy investment with a Carbon Principles scheme.

This effort is the first time a group of banks has come together and consulted with power companies and environmental groups to develop a process for understanding carbon risk around power sector investments needed to meet future economic growth and the needs of consumers for reliable and affordable energy.

JPMorgan, one of the banks involved, this week made its own bold gamble in carbon trading, acquiring ClimateCare, a British company that pioneered carbon offsetting. According to the Guardian ClimateCare “makes reductions of greenhouse gases such as C02 on behalf of individuals and companies around the world, and invests in wind power, hydro power, biomass, human energy and cooking-stove projects in developing countries.”

Like many others I am very skeptical of current approaches to offsetting. The idea that I can fly as much as I want as long as I later pay my absolution: “It’s not just about confession and saying my Hail Marys.” That said, its clear that the mechanism businesses find most compelling, to the point of fetish, is that of the market. Markets are a religion for some people, and they are the people with money to invest. Carbon trading could end up defining business in the 21st Century in much the same way that oil consumption defined the 20th.  I am not alone – according to S2 Intelligence businesses will spend $595 billion by 2010 on systems to support green accounting (yet again thanks Greenbang). Or as Computerworld puts it Green IT spend to outstrip Y2K within two years.

Finally I would just like to say JPMorgan’s research arm should be strongly applauded for making some of its climate-related research publicly available, for example this study into Europe, airlines and climate change targets.As I have argued before wider access to solid information is key to better outcomes. Well done old blue blood Wall Street bank.

Regarding the photo above I had not heard of carbon neutral bank cards before- this one from Barclaycard. Thanks very much sh1mmer for allowing me to use the photo with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.


The 2% Solution: Impact of IT, The New Low Carb Diet

I recently blogged about a figure I had read, that emissions due to IT were in the region of 2% of global totals, but couldn’t find/remember the source. Well the number just popped up again, thanks to a heads up by Local Government 2.0 maven (and RedMonk community platinum card holder) Dominic Campbell.

The estimate in question came from a report by Intellect, a UK technology industry trade association. The report, High Tech: Low Carbon, aims to “set out the issues relating to the energy demands of products and services together with a clear action plan for the sector to address them.”

According to the report, the energy use related to ICT (information communications technologies) currently accounts for about 2 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. If all else remained equal, a straight-line projection based on growth in both sectors would suggest that by 2050, we could see a five-fold increase in emissions related ICT and a six-fold increase in the emissions related to consumer electronics (CE).

However, we are already seeing massive improvements in the energy efficiency of both sectors, which is already helping to mitigate this risk. Intellect believes the industry can exceed the target set by the CBI Climate Change Task Force for a 30 per cent improvement in the efficiency of electrical equipment by 2030.

Its good to see some positivitity here, some of it even warranted. IT can indeed make massive strides in improving efficiency. Indeed- the entire industry has been arguably doing the opposite for the last 40 years, so there is plenty of room for improvement. The PC era was about unfettered abundance machismo, as was Internet version 1.0. But what comes next will be working with constraints. Speeds and feeds never remotely considered efficiency, except perhaps in odd places like mainframe I/O.

Perhaps unsurprisingly a vendor-led IT consortium supports IT accounting. As far as I am concerned though they are responding to a need, not inventing one. I am going to read the full report and comment some more but in the meantime I just wanted to flag the number for myself, and people like Dennis Howlett.

IT needs to get its act together, but so so other industries. Well done Intellect for putting a stake in the ground on the 2%, but thinking about the other 98. Lets get on that Low Carb(on() Diet.


Green is a form of Lean

Many of us are thinking through the implications of greener supply chains.

Al has been giving it some lately, for example, with his thoughts on the Carbon Added Tax. Over at SAP Research Andreas Vogel is leading the charge. IBM is doing some solid work here, as is BT. But we’re beginning to see a potential backlash, based on the Greens are Dreamers frame. The argument is that green thinking and approaches will be jettisoned as economic conditions toughen. But is that necessarily the case? Jason Busch from SpendMatters nails it in a post entitled How Will Green / Sustainable Procurement Play in a Recession?

While it would be easy to dismiss green and sustainable procurement practices as a luxury for companies to invest in when times are good, I actually believe that they could help organizations to buoy their top lines and pull up from a spiraling downturn or period of contraction. Whether it’s better marketing the benefits of green supplier practices to customers to spur pent-up demand or making investments in supplier development initiatives which reduce unnecessary packaging, supplier-focused sustainability initiatives have the potential to drive sales and reduce cost.”

I hold a similar line: it seems daft to argue, as the Bush Administration repeatedly has, that efficiency efforts harm economies. Efficiency can help you cut cost, even if (especially if?) its energy costs we’re talking about. Jason gets some great comments on his post. For actionable advice why not try Paul Gooch’s suggestion:

A former employer of mine ran an internal initiative called WRAP…waste reduction always pays. This applies as much to purchasing as any functional activity. The benefits go straight to the bottom line, and in the process you reduce your energy usage, carbon footprint, etc

But Lisa Reisman really distills the arguments to 100% proof: “green is a form of lean”. Thinking about carbon consumption is not just protectionist sabre-rattling: its an efficiency argument. It strikes me at the moment many economists and business commentators just aren’t thinking through their positions. We’re seeing rhetoric as the primary argument. Greens are luddites. Localisation means a return to the stone age. And so on. Green is a form of lean.

The implications for software and services companies are clear – keep investing in Green, recession or not. You can always change your marketing to read “cost-cutting”. If however you’re relying on a return to abundance as a primary planning assumption you could be in major trouble. Spend matters green or not.