Sustainable Information Technology

Green IT: not one of ‘the key challenges facing the cloud industry’?

Whoops! Green IT cloud

Damn! Forgot to mention Green IT

Through my membership of the Guardian’s Sustainable Business Network I was invited to a Huawei sponsored seminar on ‘key challenges facing the cloud industry’ last week. Given the ‘Sustainable Business’ clue in the name of the network,  and the popular idea that cloud computing services can in one way or another help to reduce the overall carbon footprint of IT – I was expecting Green IT to be a big theme of the evening.

It was a racing certainty that we would hear about issues such as the transfer of corporate carbon emissions to service providers, the use of cloud technologies and applications to enable non-IT emission reductions, and so forth. This is why William Hill loves me.

On arrival at the Guardian’s head offices I saw that the title of the seminar wasn’t the same as that advertised in the emails I’d been sent. Perhaps that was the reason why Green IT wasn’t on the agenda?

Not a bit of it.

Green IT not part of the information economy?

The new name for the seminar was ‘The role of cloud services in the information economy’. Yes, that same economy in which – in Britain at least – the role of carbon emission reduction through technological innovation is central, and regarding which there are statutory obligations for large corporations.

So to my amazement, Green IT – sustainable information technology, call it what you will – is not one of the challenges faced by the cloud industry or one that affects its role in the information economy. Or so it seems.

Maybe you’re thinking the lack of engagement with Green IT issues was something to do with the calibre of the people who took part in the seminar? When I go along to one of these things, I’m expecting socially inept men mumbling through their beards as they gaze myopically through thick-rimmed glasses at their be-sandaled socks, failing to cope with the proximity of other human beings when ripped away from their super-computers for the evening. You know – people like me.

Well, that wasn’t it either. They were all men, but every one of them seemed to have a brain the size of a planet, communicated professionally and was actually – hold the front page! – interesting. Still no Green IT though.

The meeting was chaired with good humour and efficiency by Stephen Pritchard, an IT journalist. His knowledge and experience was apparent throughout.

Jerry Caron of Current Analysis gave the only ‘stand and deliver PowerPoint’ presentation of the evening, which was forgivable given the analytical nature of the business Jerry is in.

Take-aways:

  • Cloud is overhyped and adoption is currently low, but growing significantly
  • Opportunities for competitive differentiation in cloud service offerings
  • Cloud take-up highest in 1001-2000 employee firms
  • Companies are looking for cost savings (expect disappointment!), flexibility, access to the latest apps, and the ability to be ‘more strategic’ with IT
  • Businesses don’t see Telecom operators as the natural suppliers of cloud services

Green IT Content Rating: 0/10

By the way, I think I’ve tracked down where you can get the Current Analysis report that the stats were based on.

John Roese of Huawei came across as that rare combination, a visionary with his head screwed on.

Take-aways: Roese’s talk was wide-ranging and difficult to summarise, but no less engaging for that. My main take-away was that we need to be more aspirational when thinking about cloud services and how they can be used to transform business models and the way things generally get done. If ‘the cloud’ is just a collection of virtualised Data Centres, storage and computing, then it’s a pretty underwhelming proposition, according to Roese, and I agree with him.

Green IT Content Rating: 0/10.

I know that Wuawei actually think about this stuff. For example, this quote is from their CSR Report 2011:

The ICT sector is an energy-intensive industry with further user growth and traffic growth leading to greater energy consumption. Huawei realizes the importance of providing energy-efficient solutions. To address this issue, Huawei has implemented the “Green Communications, Green Huawei, Green World” strategy in its operations, products, and services.

As CTO of Simply Business, Lukas Oberhuber’s view was from the trenches. His talk had a focus on the practicalities of using cloud services to help run a business.

Take-aways:

  • New businesses will be natural adopters of cloud services
  • Why would anyone employ a person to admin an Exchange server, when they could push those services to the cloud and free up the member of staff to do something creative?
  • Cloud services enable agility and flexibility right now
  • Pareto principle: organisations used to look for applications that were 80% fit-for-purpose and needed only 20% customisation. Now the ratio is 95/5 at best. If it needs more customisation than that – forget it: you may as well use Ruby on Rails or something similar to develop your own app

Green IT Content Rating: 0/10.

Moving on, Derek White is the chief customer experience officer at Barclays. He enthused about the development of the Pingit service and the ‘reigniting of three hundred years of Barclays innovation’.

Take-aways:

  • Barclay’s thinking on the cloud is about customers and what they can access (or potentially access)
  • Cloud take-up being driven by the ‘consumerisation of technology’
  • Barriers to entry for innovative businesses dramatically lowered by the cloud
  • Apps development cycle times ‘collapsed’ by cloud collaboration

Green IT Content Rating: 0/10.

Dr. Stephen Unger of Ofcom was the final speaker. Throughout the evening there was a running joke about expected audience hostility towards Dr Unger as the representative of competitive regulation. Hmmm… wasn’t it a lack of regulation that got us all into the general macro-economic meltdown that our children will be paying for for the next gazillion years? You could say the same about industrial pollution and its role in global warming.

But I digress. Dr Unger saw his role as one of curbing our enthusiasm by dealing with the facts, which by this time was quite a refreshing approach.

Take-aways:

  • There is a real-world technical limitation on the growth of cloud services in the UK, which is constrained by frequency spectrum availability (which I simplify as ‘bandwidth’)
  • There needs to be more available spectrum
  • The spectrum available has to be used more efficiently
  • There need to be more cell sites (small cells – e.g. for wi-fi)

Green IT Content Rating: 0/10.

Other Cloud Constraints

In the ensuing general discussion, there were some other interesting points, viz;

  • Cloud interfaces should be standardised. Possibly around Amazon Web Services. Until this happens, there will be no mass enterprise adoption of cloud services
  • The human element is slowing things down. IT managers are worried about their futures
  • Consumer confidence in the cloud requires breakthrough products
  • The companies that have combined Line of Business strategy with IT (in other words, companies in which IT managers aren’t just doing their own thing) have been able to adopt cloud services more quickly
  • There is a ‘need to scale the Enterprise into the cloud’. As things stand, companies can’t move everything they do today into the cloud

Green IT Content Rating: 0/10.

Total Green IT Content Rating: 0/60.

Let’s see, that’s 6 times 10 equals 60, and 6 times zero equals zero: so nil points.

Am I being unfair here? Can such a general introduction to a complex subject hope to keep every special interest group happy?  No, but surely when it comes to the Cloud, Green IT is a special special interest group.

Fly the Flag in the Cloud

Finally, it escaped no one’s attention that four of the speakers had strong North American accents. Dr Stephen Unger was obviously British.

C’mon everybody! Isn’t it typical of the British to be inward looking and conservative in our attitudes to these issues? Surely with just a bit more effort we can find an American to run our Regulatory services?

Comments

  1. Dan,

    Thanks for the excellent summary of the discussion.

    A brief thought on your biggest concern: the greenness of cloud technologies. When hosting internet or any other services, a large proportion of the cost these days is power, not hardware. However, this cost is currently baked into the price a company like Simply Business pays to it’s hosting providers. Therefore, cost savings in cloud hosting will be achieved in large part through power savings. These savings will in turn be created by providers like Intel (or Huawei) through power-sipping hardware.

    All of this is a major change from 10 years ago, where the cost of hardware was a far greater proportion of running costs. This means that as an industry cloud service providers (and their vendors) have to be focused on reducing power consumption to stay competitive. However, to a business like ours, we are able to reduce our power footprint effectively by purchasing cheaper hosting services. (It’s not quite that simple, but hopefully you get the gist.)

    But I think you have a fair point: we recycle in the office, we turn off our monitors and computers at night, but we don’t think enough about the greenness of our cloud vendors.

    Lukas

    • Hi Lukas,

      Many thanks for taking the time to respond. I think you went straight to the core of where I see the opportunity – there is a kind of economy of scale that should be exploited when organisations effectively transfer carbon emissions to cloud vendors.

      I think you can see that despite my ‘special interest’ I actually took away some insights from a very valuable evening, so thanks again. It’s a theme I’ll keep returning to – I want to help clients improve because of, and not despite of sustainable IT.

      Dan

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