New York Times Article: More Computing yields bigger impacts to the environment. (Duh!)

On September 22nd, the New York Times ran an article entitled “The Cloud Factories: Power, Pollution and the Internet” authored by James Glanz which has caused a bit of a stir throughout the industry. (see link below) Primarily because it was published by the New York Times, it has raised enough eyebrows to warrant many responses including my brief note here as well. The author suggests that the skyrocketing demand for smartphones and internet connected medias is creating larger and larger footprints on the planet, and these footprints are BAD. Period.

One response by Charles Babcock at InformationWeek summed up the general industry’s responses perfectly. “Everyone is doing a lot more computing, as the story notes. But as we do so, the amount of electricity consumed per unit of computing is going down”, which the original Glanz story somehow misses. Babcock continues, “Nowhere does the Times address this salient point. Instead, it concludes we are doing a lot more computing and, therefore, we are all guilty of driving environmental degradation.”

OMG! Could a writer actually have taken issue with the success of technology, progress in the information age, and thrown the baby out with the bath water? Really? Of course we are consuming more power. Of course we are building information factories. Note to James Glanz: Progress happens!

I would argue that more and more people are more empowered to think, and act and dream today. The digital age has brought with it so much potential, that nearly anyone can be anything if they so choose. Information is so easily accessible, that big global issues are being solved. Diseases are being eliminated, mysteries are being solved. The very universe is being shrunk as we become more immersed in global information. This is good.

Global Impact of the Digital Information Age

Global Impact of the Digital Information Age

Charles’ response to the original story also mentions one of my all-time hot-buttons as well: The true goal for the information age being the overall improvement in Work-per-Watt or put another way, the “transactional overhead”.  People have heard me talk about this for years. Most IT professionals like to talk about something called “PUE” which is a simple metric to quantify data center overhead, but the next phase for us all is to consider and quantify this “transactional overhead”. The Green Grid is hard at work finalizing one of the follow-ons to the simple PUE metric “DCeP”, which essentially allows this work-per-watt transaction cost to be calculated.

THAT my friends is the real goal of this industry. Reducing the overhead associated with thinking and dreaming. Sure, the more we think and dream, the more resources we use. Our planet now has 7 BILLION people on it and we use A LOT more of everything. Heck, McDonald’s sells like 100 Million burgers a day! The key to sustained growth is the incremental information cost and efficiency, NOT the absolute quantities of resources being consumed.  We will use more power and produce more carbon, but the magic is we will to do so on an ever more efficient scale! More people will be able to think fast and dream bigger, all with a shrinking personal resource envelope.

Mr. Glanz, give me a call…

Referenced URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/technology/data-centers-waste-vast-amounts-of-energy-belying-industry-image.html?_r=0

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Mark Harris Fremont, CA
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One Response to New York Times Article: More Computing yields bigger impacts to the environment. (Duh!)

  1. Ben McCullom says:

    Interesting that most people commenting on this article are taking issue with it and running from it by saying well Duh! more people more computing and so on. I have not seen one response to the article that says….well it (the article) is flawed but, there really is a great deal that could be done, quite easily, to create an enoromous efficiencies in the Data Center in the areas of Cost reduction, Energy savings and Carbon emisions with the 1st of these efficiencies being very good for business.

    The responses to me say that most experts would prefer to build excuses rather than offer suggestions and solid plays to improve the footprint of most if not all DC’s.

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