Environment Software & Hardware Technology

Cloud Computing: an electrical storm waiting to happen?

If there’s to be any silver lining for Cloud Computing, it better be because of it’s green credentials, or we’re due the biggest electrical storm in computing history…

If there’s to be any silver lining for Cloud Computing, it better be because of it’s green credentials, or we’re due the biggest electrical storm in computing history…

With industry giants like Microsoft and consumer behemoths such as Amazon throwing their not inconsiderable weight behind Cloud Computing, few would bet against it.

But in the mad rush to market the last word in Cloud Computing platforms, my concern is that not enough consideration is being given to ensuring there isn’t a black cloud on the environmental horizon.

Cloud Computing going up in smoke?

What we do know is, if you have lots (and if you’re Google, we’re talking in hundreds of thousands) of servers, you need a colossal amount of energy to run them. Not only do you need to power them, but if you’ve got lots of servers in one place, you need to keep them cooled and ventilated, too.

So let’s say Oracle’s Larry Ellison was ahead of his time and his Network Computer concept of the 90s is the Cloud Computing initiative of the latter 00s. People are now on the move and the only constant is the internet, or the Cloud.

Microsoft meanwhile, they’re busying themselves with their Live Mesh service (which, incidentally, just gave me an “unavailable” error when I Googled up their website), Amazon have their EC2 platform and Apple have their MobileMe service.

Between these three, we’ve covered the widest aspect of the Cloud Computing concept; from major platforms to consumer services to end user.

Larry was right, in the same way Apple were with the Newton — right idea, wrong time.

So lots of great time-saving ideas, excellent technology abounds and the Network Computer is still never going to see the light of day. Why? Because it’s just a name, sadly for Larry. Despite his hope that Oracle would benefit financially from the idea, thin, lightweight notebook computers are everywhere, with nary a mention of Oracle in sight.

It is within the Cloud that all of the truly smart stuff will take place. And it’s within the Cloud that things are going to heat up .. in a very literal sense!

We must, once more, place our collective fortunes in the hands of very smart people, who must toil to think of ways to avoid the energy crisis we seem stricken to march right into, like a blizzard:

“We humans are a damned predictable lot; only when faced with the prospect of losing everything do we act appropriately. The hastening energy crisis is just such a prospect, one that could effortlessly strip us of our technological prowess, nudging those that ‘have’ back several centuries, down there with those that ‘have not’, most probably economically, financially, socially and culturally, too.”

Maybe it’s time to up the game and make the rules of energy efficiency that much higher. Let’s push the technological needle of progress further to the right and into the future, but with a real purpose in mind; one of setting a hard but realistically low energy consumption agenda for all computers, peripherals and gadgets.

Remember my gadget energy manifesto? I think it’s high time we took things further and looked at computing and gadgets more holistically, from a world view stand point.

And we need to act quickly because if Cloud Computing is the future, then the size & scale of the commitment by the major players will be astonishing — as will the total energy expenditure across the whole world.

Much to the combined confusion of almost everyone at the time, Google announced their commitment to renewable energy sources. I knew exactly where they were coming from; they’d recognized very early on that any energy crisis would slam them the hardest of all.

Google have stated their intent. Now it’s time for everyone else to set aside their political ambitions, put on hold their commercial interests and work with or think like Google, or Cloud Computing is going to be the makings of a thunderstorm, stretching from here to a future near you…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

1 reply on “Cloud Computing: an electrical storm waiting to happen?”

It will be interesting to see what leverage the Google’s of the world can have over what used to be such global commercial giants, the power and oil companies.

At a time when we can only see the cost of energy increasing, what used to be outside of the best interests of the largest stakeholders (i.e. the energy suppliers) is now inside the very keen interest of some of the new large players.

Investment in energy solutions can only be on the up and plans / ideas that might have been previously shelved in order to protect the profit margins of their creators may be dusted off to ensure future energy market positions.

I am reading about more sources of renewable / long lasting energy monthly, what is obviously needed is corporate levels of investment to make one a reality.

At the end of the day, some of the original insight to the network computer was just to reduce the overheads on the desk, of both power consumption and hardware costs.

This is something hopefully Cloud Computing can also harbour ambitions to achieve, by sharing processing power virtually.

Certainly the corporate market is now much focused on virtual solutions in order to reduce cost of both hardware and energy overheads. But, also to achieve the golden 99.99% up-time of services — imagine, no internet!

Our requirement and interest in power is greater than ever before, to find solutions to answer this demand has become the responsibility of some of the bigger consumers, lets hope with their weight behind projects progress may be a little quicker.

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