How Green is Cloud Computing?

Australian Open web traffic

This is a graph of traffic to the website of the Australian Open tennis championship. As you can see, the traffic spikes in January every year and then all but disappears for the other 11 months of the year. It is also important to note that the height of the traffic spike is increasing year on year.

If the owners of this site want to be able to serve all the traffic at the top peak of the peak, they can spend a fortune on servers capable of handling that level of traffic but these servers will be almost entirely idle for eleven months of the year. The alternative is that the owners put the site on a cloud platform and dial up the resources associated with it, as and when needed. This is obviously a vastly more efficient option for the site owners. However, that doesn’t mean that cloud computing itself is Green or efficient.

For cloud computing to be efficient, the individual servers need to be doing more work than they would be doing if not in a cloud infrastructure. The main cloud providers include Amazon, Google, IBM and more recently, Microsoft. As far as I know, none of these companies are providing utilisation data per unit, so it is not possible to know just how efficient cloud computing actually is.

There is another consideration. There are a number of start-ups who say that they couldn’t have built their infrastructure if it wasn’t for cloud i.e. theirs is additional consumption which wouldn’t haven’t existed without the cloud. Does this newly facilitated consumption mean that cloud computing is less Green?

And without usage data from the cloud providers will we ever truly know if cloud computing is Green?


Finnair: Awesomeness by Carbon Calculator (never say never)

Just the other day I say we wouldn’t be covering Carbon Calculators unless they ran on AMEE. Wrong. This afternoon I got a link from Joseph Simpson at MovementDesign and it got me thinking. I have no idea why a thinktank dedicated to the future of movement wouldn’t actually blog the link rather than sending it to me, but that’s the web for you. Wired has a story about Finnair. Wired gives them props for not being defensive about emissions, but that’s not what jumped out at me. What I like is the fact Finnair is showing customers the potential carbon impacts of different journeys through different hubs.

It’s a simple application, but it’s pretty cool. Just load in your departure and arrival city, and the calculator returns the total distance of your trip, the amount of fuel used per passenger, and the amount of CO2 generated by that fuel. To calculate the per passenger number, Finnair looks at typical load factors for their different flight segments (long haul flights tend to be 85% full, leisure flights 95%, etc.), and also takes into account what type of plane is being flown on each route, since fuel efficiency varies depending on model. And, with typical Scandinavian thoroughness, Finnair has designed the calendar so that you’re able to see how emissions are impacted by connections at various Finnair hub cities.

Its that last function which interests me most, in some respects. Now if we could just get Finnair to integrate with AMEE at the back end and dopplr, the travel serendipity platform, at the front end for trip-planning, then we’d be cooking with… uh… a wind-powered oven. Exciting times. I would love to know what the implications are for trips through different hubs. I am pretty sure Heathrow, with its circling, and fuel-burning on the ground is just awful. Computers and augmented intelligence are going to redefine travel in the new energy era.


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.


Dell HQ – only buying Renewable Energy

This news just in.

Of course buying green energy is only a very small part of a sustainability strategy. But its a darned good placeholder, especially when part of the solution is turning landfill gas into power. Stink sequestration? 😉

Dell is using all of the power generated from Waste Management’s Austin Community Landfill gas-to-energy plant, meeting 40 percent of Dell headquarters’ campus power needs. The remaining 60 percent comes from existing wind farms and is provided by TXU Energy.

Dell also announced today it is increasing green power use for its Austin Parmer Campus, provided by Austin Energy, from eight to 17 percent. The company is a leading participant in Austin Energy’s GreenChoice® power program. Dell also is powering its Twin Falls, Idaho, facility with 100 percent green power, 97 percent of which is wind power and three percent solar.

Why blog this? Because headquarters tend to reflect how a company thinks about itself. On the one hand you can argue improving the HQ is just green window dressing. But I prefer in this case to be more positive on Dell’s intentions. Its a corporate leader and a very well respected brand. So well done Dell for showing leadership in your power purchasing, although I could have done without the hardware pimping in the press release though. Stay. On. Topic.

What a surprise – Dell is leading when it comes to purchasing power. Sometimes core competence really does make sense in another context. Now if it could just start reselling green power to its customers…

Do you know of other corporations that have made the commitment to power 100% of their HQ operations using green power? German web hosting provider Strato is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.


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.


Shai Agassi To Forge Israeli Electric Car Network


So ex-SAP executive Shai Agassi’s Project Better Place has managed to pull it off. Former product chief Shai catapulted coolly into DLD in Munich yesterday straight from Jerusalem, where he had launched one of the most curious deals the auto industry has ever seen. He drove out that afternoon. To Davos.

Alongside Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Renault / Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn, Agassi announced, a spectacular and audacious agreement on Monday to deploy a new kind of electric power network and set of cars to run on them that will get Israel’s car drivers off oil as quickly as possible. It’s consistent delivery on his October deal, when he raised $200 million from Israeli Corp and VantagePoint Venture Partners.

Shai and I spent thirty minutes talking yesterday in Munich and what I heard proved to be true. On stage, Agassi is a brilliant presenter, dashing, focused, witty and strident. He’s up there with Al Gore in getting you by the throat and implying “talking about this isn’t enough!” and stood shoulders above the impressive line up the crushed and seat-deprived attendees of Burda Media’s DLD event had seen.

Project Better Place will integrate and deploy a new product, sales and support channel (read ‘charging’ stations) that will allow Israeli consumers to drive their own pure electric (not hybrid) car that has a 200km or so range. It will feature a new design of battery that can be swapped in and out in about the time it takes right now to fill up a car with gasoline. People will be able to do so at a country-wide network of swapping stations, or charge cars via power points. The cars will be designed and built by Renault / Nissan. Agassi says it will reduce oil use in Israel drastically – we’re talking figures like 50 per cent here.

The capital to get this going has come from a group of investors that includes Israeli Corporation (which right now supplies Israel with oil – proving, as with Abu Dhabi’s latest moves – that oil money can sometimes turn green) and also features VantagePoint Venture Partners, blessed right now with this shining star to distract everyone from the mess at Tesla. Agassi claims the system will launch within four years.

One of the big features of the system is that electric power will be sold as packages akin to the way that mobile phones are sold today – there will be multiple plans you can buy, including one that says if you buy about six years of power, they’ll throw in the car for free.

Shai Agassi

Photo credit jdlasica

But can he really pull it off? Agassi has got to this situation incredibly quickly. When I ask how in a year he has managed to leave his old job and do one of the most audacious deals imaginable he says “Nine months! It’s been nine months!”

In truth, for any entrepreneurs out there who may suddenly feel deeply inadequate, Agassi has had this process in train for three years. The journey started when he listened to a challenge by a speaker at Davos to do something to make the world a better place. Agassi admits that during those first few years “I walked every single wrong path first. I was sure for months hydrogen, then I was sure it would be ethanol.”

This characteristic of Agassi’s seems crucial to understand. You feel he’s churned the options over in his head constantly and worked out the answer. Now he’s settled on it, his purpose is to set that vision out to the world, do the necessary business deals to make it happen and then…”. Actually, “and then?” is a fairly good question and there isn’t right now a lot of substance to see, beyond the deal itself. Be in no doubt that Project Better Place now needs to ‘execute’, as IT guys would say. They’ll need some very talented people, they’ll need to ensure that Renault / Nissan and other partners such as battery provider NEC deliver technologies, and integrate those technologies together, on time. They will also need to work out the details of the service model and sales and marketing, factors that could make or break the project. And of course if oil prices fall dramatically (admittedly unlikely) the economics become a problem.

So is the man up for it? The company website is today a lonely place, with a link to ‘leadership’ that leads to… just Agassi. There are two people photos. Him and, curiously, his young son, who is part of the Davos pitch. Yet while Agassi himself quipped on stage to the (German) DLD audience that he “used to be the next CEO of SAP”, he never was SAP’s CEO and opinions gathered from my Twittering IT analyst friends vary on just how successful his time at that firm was.

First, here’s Dennis Howlett, veteran technology and financial software analyst:

“Shai created a roadmap and at one stage was delivering a ton of product [at SAP]. “But it became indigestible for many SAPpers.”

Then over to Greenmonk’s own James Governor:

“The Agassi legacy at SAP?…. a job unfinished. He built an architecture, but it was not as widely adopted as he, or the board, wanted.” James’s other comment is curious. “Shai evidently doesn’t have a great deal of patience and is inclined to hector communities (for example, customers) that don’t do what he wants.”

What next? Well Project Better Place has a hell of a lot to do and, once Davos is over, Agassi better get together a brilliant team and start executing. Right now, you hear nothing except him. While the project talks about partnership and being open, it would seem that the big deal has for now taken priority over engaging the talent base required. The firm will need a lot of great people, and those partnerships will take a lot of managing.

What’s sure is that the world is a better place for this development. Amongst the visionaries and future talk underway at DLD, Agassi stood out as a doer.

But don’t for a minute think this is the only future for cars. Agassi’s vision has unlocked anything up to a billion dollars but there is surely more to come and many things are happening right now. Agassi is a visionary but his vision is pretty narrow.

Shai’s in Davos now, wooing the great and mighty with that vision and his audacity. For the next three years he’ll definitely be judged on that ability to ‘execute’. We wish him well.

Read on at Re*Move, where we ask Is Project Better Place the big answer?
Mark Charmer is a contributor to Greenmonk Associates. He is CEO of The Movement Design Bureau, a think tank.

Photo credits: Project Better Place.


On CES, Greening, and Gizmodo as Eco-Pranksters


Its a laudable goal CeBIT would begin the long road to greening by fully supporting the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. But I should point out the power used at trade shows is just absurd – all those banks of screens talking to nobody in particular.

Should we should reconsider the Gizmodo guys as eco-pranksters (have you seen the video, where all the huge screens start turning off, one after another? Maybe they should join the Green Forge.) I still don’t really understand why so much anger was directed at Gizmodo, people talking about lawsuits and so on. Annoying yes. Business threatening- come on people, get some perspective.


Tracking a Greener Africa: Twitter as social network amplifier

Continuing to play in the Twittersphere, I came across a really interesting service today – called WildlifeDirect. The organisation is evidently making pretty slick use of social media tools. All I recieved was a notification that WildLife Direct was following me, but here I am bringing them to my community.

@WildlifeDirect offers short punchy (140 characters or less) notifications about conservation projects and problems in Africa. Some tweets are designed for fund-raising for particular initiatives. For example:

“DR Congo: $3000 out of $20,000 still needed to protect mountain gorillas habitat from becoming charcoal -Pls Help!”

Other notifications are updates or news about particular projects. WildlifeDirect is taking advantage of me as a 21st century switchboard operator. The model would work equally well for any type of NGO, but the green tech community is definitely leading the charge.

Education is of course critical – and when you read this:

“Kenya: Brilliant blog posts coming from the Mara Triangle. Last week Kimonjino couldn’t even use a computer mouse.”

You just have to follow it to Anti-poaching in the Mara Triangle. I can’t really blame the poachers- they look like they may well have hungry children at home. But WildlifeDirect is concerned with conservation, and its evidently doing a fine job of identifying projects and letting contributions go to those specific initiatives rather than into a general bucket. For example providing firewood to a large refugee camp near a Gorilla sanctuary. IT-enabled trackability is a going to be a big part of conservation efforts globally. I will be keeping track of this – and probably making some contributions. Bringing that together with blogs and videos is really best practice in NGO social IT.

Small things loosely joined, making a difference.
picture of Koikai courtesy of WildlifeDirec. If you have a spare tri-band phone he might like it…


Its Not The Houses That Are Smart Its The People

Probably the most interesting recent news GreenMonk has seen comes from a research project at the US Department of Energy, reported in Computerworld: Pilot program puts “smart” houses on network that adjusts energy use to pricing.

The technology in play included wireless technologies, broadband connections and back-end systems that use a Web-enabled service-oriented architecture for linking disparate information systems.

The intent of the “intelligent smart-power grid” is to give consumers the ability to conserve energy with systems that automatically adjust to pricing. There are a number of ways in which that might work, and here’s one: In the event of a heavy electric demand period that is threatening a power outage, a clothes drier embedded with a controller could receive a signal that prompts it to turn off the drying element for a short period.

IBM was involved in the project, and its good to see Big Blue doing something that affects consumer behaviour. What I find fascinating though is not the automation – its the fact that if people have better access to information, they will adjust their behaviours accordingly. Electricity meters shouldn’t be down in the basement.

According to ARS Technica:

In effect, such technologies make both the machines and their human owners into members of what the lab calls “a collaborative, distributed, commerce-driven ‘society'”—some of the same terms used to describe the many “Web 2.0” destinations. In this case, though, the purpose isn’t to create the Internet’s most tech-savvy collection of minds (see the Ars OpenForum for that) but to create a “shock absorber” for the national power grid; saving money for consumers is simply a byproduct of that process.

There is an extremely cool product out there which makes electricity use manifest – the Wattson. They have a cool slogan too- DIY Kyoto.

People are perfectly capable of making intelligent, well-formed decisions, if they have the relevant tools. Bringing meters out into the open is going to be a big part of the changes societies make over the next few years. I love a quote from the Guardian story:

“Our kids are saying that they are helping to stop the ice caps melting,” she said.

My little boy is only two years old, so perhaps I am not best equipped to comment yet, but as I understand it having kids pester their parents to turn off lights – usually only happens once they have left home and are paying the bills…

special thanks to Mike Gunderloy, who sent me a link to this story through Twitter, saying it was “greenmonky”. he was right.