Saturday, March 31, 2007

Foedus on Track with Virtualization

You probably know that most companies use computers to provide a variety of business-centric services that are critical to their success. These machines are known as 'servers'. Each server usually performs a single, specific duty; there's the email server, the accounting server, the print server, etc. Oftentimes each server runs on its own separate hardware, and is controlled and managed as a single unit. IT personnel really like this, as it makes each application far easier to troubleshoot and maintain than if everything was lumped together on one box.

A lot of that is beginning to change with a new technology that allows for several of these machines to be consolidated and run off a single computer. This process, known as virtualization, is still in its infancy, but will have tremendous ramifications for the environment. Foedus, a three year old Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based company, specializes in this process. Mike Reilly, CEO of Foedus, was happy to fill in the details.

According to Mr. Reilly, most servers are only run at about 5 to 12 percent utilization; that means that the processor, or CPU, is only doing work for that amount of time. In addition, servers use a large amount of electricity, much more than your typical desktop or home computer. How much? Mr. Reilly estimates that each server uses between $300 and $550 per month in electricity. So the idea here is clear; if there was a way to put a lot of these machines onto one piece of hardware, companies could (a) save a lot of energy, (b) buy a lot less hardware, and (c) throw away a lot fewer machines when they reach their end of life.

The savings are substantial; Reilly estimates that a typical project reduces the numbers of servers by a factor between 10 to 1, and 20 to 1. That turns into, on average, a 40 percent overall cost savings and an 80 percent reduction in hardware purchases. And the good thing is that almost all servers (95 percent) are candidates for virtualization. Only a few, typically running old software or 'legacy' applications, are not.

The downside is fairly minimal; personnel require some additional training in the virtualzation software. It is of course, new, so there may be some reluctance at implementing it corporate wide from the get-go. But, as Reilly says, the good thing is that you can try it out on a few servers and see how you like it. Virtualization is clearly a revolution, probably as big as the invention of networking, and it's sure to be a big hit for companies, and a low hit on the environment.

Five Things You Might Have a Hand In

When it comes to implementing sustainable computing solutions, most IT departments are now getting down to action items. The biggest drivers right now are energy consumption, and proper disposal of used equipment. To some extent, the solutions to these issues might occur behind the scenes, as firms use technologies such as virtualization to get a lot more oomph out of using less. But others solutions will require so-called "'user input"; you will actually need to participate in the process. Congratulations! You are about to be part of the global warming solution. Here are five things that your IT folks might ask you to do:

Print using soy ink - This product has now become available and is much more eco-friendly than other inks that are based on volatile organic compounds (VOCs). However, the drawback is that soy ink doesn't work very well in personal printers; you may be asked to give yours up.

Print Less - Printing costs are 5 percent equipment, 45 percent supplies, and 50 percent labor; reducing printing has a direct effect on all of these. In addition, paper is about 35 percent of our waste stream, so there's a big reduction in waste.

Use your gear longer - at most, only about 12 percent
of computers and cell phones are recycled worldwide. We are going to have to bring that number up a little bit.

Change your operating system - As mentioned before, there's a good probability that a switch to Linux will double the lifespan of your machine.

Use an online FAX system - That clunky old machine might be going bye-bye, instead replaced with a online service such as GreenFax or MyFax that sends all incoming faxes to email addresses.

That's it! As we've said, there's a good chance that these might be the first steps. There will probably be many more to come.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Wee Laddies Give Green Supercomputing a Go

The Scots have developed pretty neat little gadget, a green supercomputer. Although the phrase may be perhaps an oxymoron, the machine does consume 10 times less energy and is 300 times faster than its traditional equivalents. That seems like the right direction.

The computers name is Maxwell, which incidentally is not a bad idea in and of itself; perhaps giving the thing a name will promote better maintenance practices to extend (his?) life. Maxwell also operates in less space (only two racks) and runs much more coolly than equivalent machines. He's pretty difficult to program right now (probably because he's using "field programmable gate arrays (FPGA) in place of conventional microprocessors"), and solving this communication problem will take another two to three years. But after that, he will be on the force, solving a variety of problems from the oil and gas industries, amongst others. Good boy, Maxwell!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

HP Throws Down

some large numbers when it comes to reducing energy use, claiming they are going to try and reduce their global energy consumption by 20 percent in three years. Now, I'm a big believer in my own one percent rule, which states that a one percent annual change in a big system results in a massive chaos - HP is saying they are going for about a seven percent reduction per year. That of course includes their very successful data center reductions that are already started (consolidating 85 centers to 6).

I'm not saying they can't do it, I'm just saying man the lifeboats; most people can't move this fast. They better be ready to start accepting resignations for the rearguard.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

No Light Shed on Electronic Purchases

Consumers wanting to buy energy efficient products are being left in the dark about the greenest models to purchase, according to a new study released recently by the National Consumer Council (NCC).

The report looked at 350 electronic products such as TVs, laptops, and DVDs, and found that there was an Information Blackout as to the power consumption of these items - just one had an energy label sticker on it! The report also uncovered that there was a human side to the issue too, as most staff could not answer basic questions about the energy efficiency of products. Most help lines and websites were also of limited use, but equally ill equipped for assist eco-conscious consumers. Light's out - where's the switch?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bill Encourages Telecommuting

We all know that there are societal benefits to telecommuting: less pollution, less time wasted in traffic, more flexibility, etc. Some countries, like Japan, have offered tax incentives to employers who institute telework programs for a while now, but a bill recently introduced into the US Congress may give Americans the same opportunity.

The bill, introduced by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Representative Lee Terry (R-NE), is called the Parents’ Tax Relief Act of 2007. There are a few interesting parts, including a vastly simplified home office deduction ($2500 or the profit from your home-based business, whichever is lower), and a telecommuting tax credit for employers of up to $2400 per telecommuter. In addition, employers that provide computers and broadband access equipment can write it off, making such equipment tax-free. The bill hasn't passed yet, but there are high hopes.

A Laptop Spills Its Guts

Pretty interesting article from PC World about what goes into making a laptop. One thing that is striking is the number of substances (at least 20), and number of countries (over 10) involved in the process. Laptops are truly a global product.

Obviously, the impact on the environment for this is a little hard to calculate, with all these parts being shipped all over the world; why don't we leave it as 'a lot'. It does bring into question whether buying locally manufactured electronics would be the proper thing to do. This debate is already raging in auto world, where claims have been made that a locally made Hummer is more eco than a foreign made Prius. Should we buy locally made electronic devices? Does such a option even exist, or could it be created?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Maine Gets Rid of their eWaste

Very interesting one here on Maine's eWaste recycling industry. Uniwaste, the company doing the dismantling, handles 70 percent of the business from Maine, about 50,000 pounds a year.

Naturally, since there is so much of this stuff around, there will be some abuse in the eWaste process. This paragraph brought back memories:

State officials know there can be abuses. Complaints in 2005 led to the discovery of a South Portland warehouse filled with about 150 TV sets and computer monitors. A recycling company apparently sold the more valuable waste and stockpiled the rest, before declaring bankruptcy and leaving the landlord to recycle the waste, officials said.

Reminded me of doing urban planning work in East Orange, NJ, where exactly the same thing happened - companies would rent a warehouse, fill it up with drums of toxic chemicals, and then stop paying the rent. I'm sure we will find more and more of these caches as the work continues.

It's Tomorrow

The long awaited day is here. All of you that signed up for the challenge, let's see what you are made of.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

IT Freebies Could Be Toxic Junk

O'Reilly has come down hard on the doling out of the schwag at tech conferences. Dale Dougerty, the author, freely admits that he only kept the bag, and who can blame him; the stuff within is mostly junk. Coincidentally, Green Business News is having their own problems, being inundated with ridiculous items such as giant paperclips and giant calculators, the latter which are particularly difficult to throw away because it's subject to WEEE. They can't just be whipped in the trash, because they are toxic.

Comparatively, it's not clear if tech gatherings produce more of this junk than any other conference, although, based on the nature of the industry, they probably rank highly on the list. Electing not to show up to these events, saving the plane trip and associated expenses, is always a fine option. Freebies that are sent to your home or employ are tougher to deal with; GBN recommends that the perp look into some business intellligence software to pick and choose their marks. But please, exclude us; we have enough giant paperclips and calculators to last a lifetime.

Never Give Up the Fight

I just love this one from GRYNX, about how to fix a laptop that has a glass of wine spilled in it. I have actually done this, except it was a can of soda and I used a toothbrush to get the sugar off. Just goes to show that these things are probably more resilient that we give them credit for. He's got another one on a router as well.

CGO Goes Mainstream

It's nice to see an idea go mainstream. Ted from InfoWorld expanded on the idea of the CGO which I have written about a few times, here and here. Obviously the position is being framed out, and doesn't even exist yet in most companies. Ted quotes Rich Walker from GreenBiz with his ideas:

"A CSO is an advocate and educator, a visionary, a change manager and a cheerleader, and above all else, a results-driven manager."

"CSOs must serve at least three roles: They must look inward, end-to-end driving business opportunity; they must look outward, walking the talk and communicating with customers and other stakeholders; and they must lead. A CSO must articulate, implement and sustain the organization's vision of sustainability and provide visibility and transparency of that vision both internally and externally."

This is a first stab, and it's not a bad one. But it reflects the same problem we are having with the CIO role - it mixes up the role and manager and leader, where the individual is never sure whether they are supposed to optimize the existing process, or invent new processes. This clearly needs to be worked out before the role is created; we don't need another top level C position with the same murky job description. For me, the CGO is pure leadership - find the new things that will drive our business forward that are environmentally friendly in tech, then we will turn them over to the CIO to build them out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Linux Prevents Obsolescence: Could Reduce E-Waste by Millions of Tons of per Year

So it looks like Vista is almost certainly going to result in a mass dumping of perfectly good computers. For an operating system that, basically, offers two new features, this is certainly unfortunate. But what can be done?

Well, A report from the government of the United Kingdom discussing the benefits of open source software indicates that Linux could certainly alleviate this problem.

"A typical hardware refresh period for Microsoft Windows is 3-4 years. A major UK manufacturing organisation quotes its hardware refresh period for Linux systems as 6-8 years." A significant difference...a doubling even, of the lifetime of a computer.

Thus, a world using Linux would be a world with half the computer waste (and, admittedly, halved sales for Dell and the rest.)

A widespread switch to Linux could prevent millions of tons of waste from going into landfills. Every computer not needed would prevent the use of 240 kg of fossil fuels. Spread that out over the 17.5 million computers that wouldn't be going obsolete every year and Linux could deliver the world a much more sustainable future.

The good news is, the world looks like it's increasingly ready to upgrade from Windows. Most of Asia has switched, as least in part, to Open Source Software (OSS); some countries, such as Indonesia, also think that Linux changes scofflaws into legit users. Cuba has reported a 500 percent increase in Linuxswitch from Windows to Linux, and two out of three Dell customers are now demanding that installation in two years; of course, they can't really get Windows due to export restrictions. Big Blue is giving a specific tutorial to The Bird be pre-installed.

Many versions of Linux will run on a Pentium 1 with 128MB of RAM, while Slackware can run on a 486. It's also generally free, and available for download, so there's no packaging or shipping associated. Linux, it turns out, is far and away the most green way to run your home computer system. And, these days, it's as simple, as usable, and almost as pretty, as OSX or Vista anyhow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What the Other Guy is Going

My ongoing series showing you how far behind the competition you are. Survey says, that's the best way to get action. Here we go:

Tranquil PC comes out with a super low (15W) system for the home of office.

Enano also has low footprint systems as well.

VIA'a chips are the greenest (but you knew that). What you might not know is that their revenue dropped 50 percent. Hang in there guys, the world is catching up.

Intel is now cranking out solid state drives. I going to do a piece on these shortly.

The Message and the Medium

There's a witty yarn in transportation engineering concerning traffic jams. When asked to how to reduce congestion and commuting times, the sagely planner responds "stop moving things around so much". It's good advice, especially when it comes to email.

Because according to Postini's last communication intelligence report, about 94 percent of all email is spam. Spam increased 147 percent in 2006 and caused a 334 percent increase in processing requirements for corporate email. Some systems are simply melting down under the pressure - too many messages for the medium to handle. And when you figure in the massive amount of hardware and energy to keep the global electronic mail system afloat, a six percent 'success rate' is just unacceptable.

There's a lot of talk about how to solve the problem. Phil Wainewright from ZdNet thinks that, from the cost perspective alone, running an in-house messaging program borders on obscene. George Ou from same thinks it's not that bad, and of course there is always Google who has had both feet in the game with GMail, one of the largest email providers in the world.

Out of these options, services like GMail will probably carry the day. Centralization reduces the massive redundancy of resources - multiple email servers, support personnel, etc. - and it also reduces spam, as each one that is detected is removed for millions of users at once. That's a lot more efficient than having thousands of email servers getting sent the same spam, checking it, then having each one delete it for a few hundred users. In sum, global, centralized email is probably the best way to deliver that service. And that takes into account people, profit and the planet.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Can't... Breathe...

Must... Save... Data...

This is a very clever notion invented by Wagner Alarm and Security Systems. With data centers getting very hot and packed with more and more servers, some mechanism needs to be installed to prevent fires from breaking out. Solution: deprive them of oxygen.

At first, I thought this was some kind of vacuum system that sucked all the air out, but actually the system leaves most of the air in, it just pulls out the oxygen. And even then, it doesn't take it all out, just enough to stop wood and plastic cables from catching fire. That's around 15-16 percent oh-two. So clever, a human can even enter the environment without a mask. No price given, but bring your wallet.

And Corrupted Soul is right - I loved the picture.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Should You Stop Showing Up For Work?

You don't hear a lot about telecommuting these days - I can't decide if it went mainstream it's a forgotten fad. There's no doubt it saves oodles of resources. As a fellow who has tried it for long periods of time, I can respond to two of the biggest questions surrounding the practice (a) I do wonder where all the people went, and (b) I do get more done.

Mind you, that's a survey of one, and from a business perspective those prominent issues might not be enough to sell a corporate TC program. Other issues, such as the fact that it is perceived as a career killer comes into play. And some countries, such as Ireland, have not yet built out their IT infrastructure to support it. Israel did, but then discovered that doing so encouraged workers to telecommute to higher paying countries such as the US.

Some new drivers are in the works, particularly along the lines of disaster preparation. These include avoiding issues related to Summer heat, and preparing for a (the?) bird flu epidemic. Add in the rising cost of gasoline, and it seems almost a surety that people will start looking for employ strongly based on commute time. Why wait for a crisis - address the management issues and start a program today.

Things a Little Birdie Told Me About IT

Percentage of senior IT professionals that are concerned about the negative impacts that their company is having on the environment, according to a recent study: 98

Price per ton of scrap whole computers, full truckload, in the global spot market, in US dollars: 80
Price of Lithium button batteries: 2060

Percent of Energy that goes into manufacturing a computer, relative to its lifespan: 81

Breakeven point between servicing a laptop and buying a new one, in months: 18

Ratio of the cost of running a low end server to the cost of the energy used to power it: 1:1

Amount France charges violators of the new RoHS regulations per incident, in Euros: 1500
Amount Ireland charges : 15,000,000

Percent of their budget that IT departments spends right now for powering equipment:10
Percent they will spend in 2008: 50

Number of computers that Greg Papadopoulos, Sun Microsystems CTO, believes the world will end up needing: 5
Number of computers in the world right now: 700,000,000+

Saturday, March 17, 2007

You Want Carbon With That?

Engadget has taken Dell to task over their carbon offset program, claiming that essentially it adds nothing to their product. Dell has a different perspective. It's tough selling the world's the most eco-unfriendly product.

Granted, Dell is trying to do right. They keep improving their overall program, although Keith thinks they need to get on the stick in Latin America and the Caribbean. And they do pass 100 percent of the money they collect towards the carbon offsetter, so they are not turning a buck on the deal. Finally, they picked two good offsetters - the Conservation Fund and - both non-profits with good reputations and low overhead ratios.

It's no secret that I think voluntary carbon offsets are a non-starter, and ultimately they will probably be damaging to the environment movement as a whole. The problem is not the mission - I don't doubt they reduce bad gas - but I don't want to see a carbon tip jar at the end of every online transaction, particularly when a lot of them are run by for-profit entities who acknowledge they take between 70 and 85 percent of every transaction. And with the rest of the for-profits not talking, one can only assume the margins are ridiculously high on this charitable enterprise.

Again, Dell (smartly) did not go this route, and they also (smartly) expanded their program so one can buy offsets without making a purchase. This breaks the guilty association between the contribution and the 'bad' product that so many of these offsetters rely on. But let's see if they can take the next step - 6 year warranties, for example. That would really set them out ahead.

By the way, you used about 2 cents in electricity reading this post. Want to send me a penny? You know, for the carbon.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Your Carbon Obligations

Hello, this is a message to inform the citizens of the world as to your obligations regarding global warming. The following will explain exactly what you are required to do to prevent this crisis.

Globally, there is only one treaty that covers this topic; it is called the Kyoto Protocol. Generally, this document is an agreement between governments to reduce emissions, and it has specific percent reductions that vary by country. There are two countries, the United States and Australia, that have not ratified this treaty. As such, if you are a citizen of one of these democratically elected countries, your personal obligation towards reducing greenhouse gases is zero. Please stop reading here.

For the rest of you, there is some obligation. Right now, your government is actively working with top scientists and heads of industry on a plan to reduce your country's share of the emissions. If by this time you have not been contacted by your government to address this issue, it is unlikely that you will be. Please stop reading here.

For those of your actively involved in the solution, you may be asked to do certain things. For example, you may be asked to reduce your energy consumption in certain steel mills, or maybe trap the methane coming to of your landfills. To address these issues, you may be given money or, alternatively, may be fined if you do not. Please abide by the laws of the country where you are doing the work. If you receive funds, please spend then wisely and efficiently on the work to be done. Stop reading here, and have your delegated employees read the final section.

If you are reading this section, congratulations, you are being asked to help solve the global warming crisis. You might be responsible for turning out the lights at the end of your shift, or pulling a tarp over the landfill you work at. Whatever the job, you will be paid for it; do it to the best of your ability. When you are finished take pride in the fact that you helped solve the crisis. Please stop reading here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Rise of the CGO

"Career Is Over", a tonguecheek acronym for Chief Information Officer (CIO), appears to be making a comeback as organizations get savvy about IT strategy and consolidate their cash blow. Nick Carr, a prominent proponent of utility computing, thinks the IT dial tone is getting louder every day, resulting in scaled systems that don't require a lot of effort to run; initiatives like the Green Grid just drive this home. Another canary is those meddling college kids, who no longer need assistance managing their computer; please, just give me a dumb pipe and exit the building. To borrow a word from tennis, IT as we know it is tanking.

But this is terrific! Because The dot green future has arrived - or as Chuck says, getting green is now an important part of your job as an IT professional. Here's the plan; operating expenses are typically 80 percent of a firm's IT budget. These can be reduced down to 50 percent (par for the course) or 30 percent (prizefighter status) with some directed cost savings efforts. Then, use all those freed up bodies and dollars and put them to work on business-centric green projects - solar, wind, biodiesel, whatever pertains. You will need to a lot of these people to sustain your business, and I'm pretty sure that hiring, say, solar engineers is going to get a little tough. So roll your own people using your existing IT staff - we will all stay employed and usher in the new era together.

Instant Karma

I took my own advice and called the restaurant we went to tonight before getting into the car - a two hour wait! On a Thursday! We went somewhere else and probably saved a gallon of gas. And my patience. Oh, and people under 25, ignore the headline.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This one is on one of the simplest technologies out there. My son is going to take a crack at tee ball this spring, so we thought we would go to the batting cages. 15 miles and 45 minutes later (because dad got lost), turns out the place is a regular Wally World - it is closed. Dad is seriously thinking about breaking into the cages ala Griswold, but instead drives home. Another 45 minutes, and it's getting dark. And no dinner yet.

Call ahead. Always.

Walmart Follows The Computing Plan

Some folks think that the US doesn't have a plan to deal with global warming because we didn't ratify Kyoto. In fact, we do have a plan and it's called the market economy. Now that might be a bad plan, and in fact I think we will ultimately regret our decision to go it alone. But as an American I have to go with it because it's what we as a nation decided to do.

Which leads me to the full endorsement of Walmart and their announcement that they are now going to offer green electronics to their consumers. Barring the ongoing debate as to whether Walmart is good or bad for America, the fact is that Walmart accounts for about 9 percent of all retail in the US. They have a huge influence on their suppliers to promote efficiency. Of course, other companies are doing their part as well e.g. HP just announced a new line of green computers, and I applaud them. So, if you want to have minimal impact with your next electronic gear purchase, follow the plan you voted for and check these guys out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Vig

The Vigorish, or Vig, is a term used to describe the amount ones pays a bookmaker for their services. I got it from James Kunstler's recent story on his unprintable blog name, where he uses it to describe the looming sub-prime mortgage disaster. It turns out, the Vig applies to computing as well.

You might have heard about the Open Source Trials document that was put out by the U.K. Office of Government Commerce. Basically, they say that running Linux can double your hardware life cycle. I was going to pound away at this, but then an article over at searchopensource made me realize that i don't need to, because most of the world has already got it:

For many countries, however -- save the U.S. -- the U.K. report could be preaching to the choir. Many countries have already begun Linux migrations in earnest over the past six months. In February, at the Asia Open Source Software Symposium in Denpasar, Indonesia, it was announced that the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's Information Service Industry had quietly been a long time user of open source. The governments of Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan also announced a switch. The Cuban government, too, made news when it declared it was ending its use of Windows in lieu of an open source deployment.

But for those of us you don't want the free operating system, it's time to pay the yearly Vig - the hardware upgrades, the licensing fees, renew SLAs with Oracle and SAP, what have you. Maybe because of the fact that we are up to debt in our eyeballs that paying the Vig on computer equipment seems so natural... mortgage, car payment, new operating system...

Time to Vacuum Up the Nickels

I was reading about prioritizing green projects today, and was struck by how many of them don't get off the ground because "they save no money". For example, a bank might save millions implementing a energy efficiency program but, compared to the billions they make, it's loose change. Or the fact that, say, Americans only spend 1.2 percent of the nation's energy on data centers. Seems like a great deal! And the sense is that there's no point in looking at it, because hey, it's only 1 percent. See, I rounded it down already.

No, no, no. These projects need to be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis, not on guts. This is in itself an issue, as return on investment for IT projects is almost never done. And gut-based decision making is very popular, particularly when snap decisions are often seen as a sign of competence. But this is unlikely to yield green benefits. The right stance is the one where every sucked up nickel is appreciated, like the Windsor School District that is thrilled they are saving $300 a month in electricity after switching to Linux thin clients. Pint's a pound the whole world round (except in the UK, home of the 20 oz. pint where "a pint of water is a pound and a quarter"), and so is a few million dollars in loose change. Or a few thousand. Or a few hundred.


Ecoiron dropped under 10,000 on Technorati today. Thanks guys, you're the best. I'll keep cranking it out.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Family is a Serious Matter

In Shakespeare in Love, the Queen predicts that Lord Wessex will lose his wife at the playhouse. Of course, I wouldn't be repeating this unless it was on TV about 15 times a day, on verizon FIOS, and it was the best thing to watch.

Ironically though, that's what this story is about. China and India are getting really serious on the Internet addiction thing. China is considering banning young people under 18 from Internet cafes, while the Indian Institute of Technology is turning off the Internet from 11PM to 12:30PM at night to get kids to talk to each other. The operative phrase there is at night. Krimis, even I wasn't that bad.

I have to do some more research, but maybe this Internet thing really is destroying the family, and only those countries with a real extended family culture can see it. So take the test and see if you are addicted. Better yet, have your kids take it. I would have my four year old do it, but he's busy playing one of the four PC 'train games' I have for him.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Virtual Road Ahead

With the possibility of cutting up to 40 percent of your IT bill with virtualization, everyone desperately wants to be a part of the new thing. Microsoft really just wants to help, but others are suggesting that their product, Virtual PC, is the equivalent of releasing a one-legged man in a marathon. Yeah, you're in the game, you're just not there to win.

VMWare has of course picked up on this and has suggested that they are just not trying, with the usual devilish ends. But the Soft might have the last and biggest fisc burp out of this new trend; since virtualization makes it is so easy to set up a new server, they are now propagating like wildfire. Which means more licenses, and more revenue for the OS. Ha ha, sit back and do nothing MS and let the money roll in - VMWare's got you covered.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Built on Guilt - Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets are making the rounds. The idea is to balance out the carbon generated by an electronic device by paying for an effort to reduce that carbon; the most common offset method is to plant trees, although you can buy credits through the Chicago Climate Exchange as well.Carbon offsetting is now a part of several green computing schemes. Dell has the Plant a Tree for Me, Via has the Clean Computing Initiative, Kudos IT Systems has something going, etc. Some vendors, such as Via, include the price of the offsetting in the product. Others, such as Dell , make the offsetting fee optional, but then use 100 percent of it to reduce the emissions.

There are a lot of issues here - the schemes are not regulated, the price and method of offsetting varies wildly from one offsetter to another, there is no agreement that offsetting even works. And since offsetting fees are essentially charitable donations, the model can be viewed as marketing ploy or (worse) a system to extract dollars from guilt-ridden consumers. This is similar to the indulgences of the 15th and 16th centuries, where the Dutch literally paid for their sins. Finally, the model encourages consumption, particularly for the rich who would rather pay a fee and slap a sticker on something than change their lifestyle.

The biggest point for me is that none of the schemes take into account the carbon effects of the materials that go into making the computer or chip, which is estimated to be up to 10 times the weight of the final product. This is far worse than cars and refrigerators, which only use one or two times their weight in raw materials. PC World is producing a machine that will in fact account for the manufacturing costs, which will supposedly be out in early Summer. I'm very interested in the price tag.

Any one of these issues gives me pause; taken together, they evoke a strange combination of confusion, anger, compassion, and weirdness. It's an odd feeling, like the one I had when I was asked to give for the Katrina victims or the 9/11 disaster. Pedantically, it just seems impossible that the carbon problem will be solved at $2 per laptop, and with the addition of for-profit intermediaries such as Terrapass, the situation is more confused; is my guilt being sold to the lowest bidder where they pocket the difference, or am I contributing to a valuable and worthwhile cause? If it's the former, and I think it is, I just don't care how many solar power plants they fund; having my feelings converted into a fiduciary instrument is just plain wrong, and having consumers foot the bill for every infrastructure crisis that comes along isn't right either.

Friday, March 09, 2007

My Coffee Maker is Demanding a Vacation

Here's a juicy one. Apparently the Government of South Korea is developing a Robot Ethics Charter which will lay out the roles and responsibilities of our new friends. It's not too crazy, as South Korea expects that every Korean household will have a robot by between 2015 and 2020. I guess they are going to have to vote and pay taxes, just like the rest of us.

I'm wondering how we are going to deal with all the robots we have right now. For example, what rights do the
100 energy slaves that I have working for me right now get? The dumb ones - the toaster, the coffee maker, the remote control - I'm not too concerned about, I'm just going to manhandle them, slap them around. You know, just like in real human life. It's the robotic surgeons and the PCs, who are taking our jobs, that I'm going to have to strategize against.

I think it comes down to math. The average human runs at about 100 watts, and the brain is 20 percent of that. So, mano-a-mano, any machine that comes close to doing what a human can do for the same amount of wattage is a competitor, and the OLPC comes close. Unfortunately for us, we have to tack on all our SUVs, our heat to keep us warm, health insurance, electric tootbrush, etc., and that puts us (Americans) up to a whopping 11,000 watts. A PC brain only needs to add a case, power supply, and some juice, so maybe they are at 250 watts or so. Geez, with those kinds of numbers it's no wonder the future doesn't need us. Scared? As Yoda says, you will be, you will be.

99 Percent of 99 Percent

Wow, that's a lot! Apparently that's the percentage of products that are percentage compliant with the RoHS regulation in England. That's pretty good, considering that about 40 percent of them never heard of WEEE just four months ago. I guess they got up to speed.

Seems like there's more work to do. There's the China RoHS which is coming online, the eWaste directives to keep up with, and you have to check the pulse on the seemingly dead EPA body every once in while. It might come to life any minute now.

Check the bubbling pot of green IT activists too, the new Chinese eWaste technology, and the fact that juggernaut BAN is not happy with juggernaut Step. So much to do, so little time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

UN StEPs Up, Japan Down

The UN is moving forward on developing worldwide eScrap standards. The program, called Solving the Ewaste Problem (the StEP initiative) has its own site and an impressive list of charter members - Microsoft, Ericson, Dell, blah, blah, blah. And with 133,000 PCs being thrown out daily in the US alone, it's certainly timely.Recycling eWaste has the added bonus that (unlike some operations) much of this waste is worth some serious cash - floppy disks are only US $100 per ton, but lithium batteries are US $2060. Here's the complete list of eScrap spot prices for the interested. Now where did I park my dump truck.

The UN's efforts will also help put the kabosh on the illegal trade and backroom deals where countries, such as Japan, are trying to dump their eWaste in other countries as part of international business deals. Too bad Hong Kong officials just caught them in the act, and sent a recent 131 ton shipment of eJunk back into Japan. Japan, meet Karma. Karma, Japan.

The View From the Bottom

Several organizations are working to produce efficient technology at fairly basic levels - the part, the chip, the protocol. Some of the work, such as IBM's constructural theory or reversible computing in general, is still highly theoretical. Others have come off the drawing board and are actually being built.At the PC level, one of the most inefficient parts is the power supply. ColdWatt is taking the issue head on and now vending power-efficient power supplies, which generate 45 percent less heat (the key) than a typical supply. After taking into account the cost of cooling, installing these babies results in a 30 percent reduction in energy use per machine.

At the chip level, carbon based computing is coming into its own as a possibility to replace silicon chips. According to the article, silicon has been pushed to its limit, with around 45 nanometer pathways. This results in large leakage losses as electrons 'jump their tracks' and go to ground. Carbon computing could get the pathway size down to 12 nanometers, and would also be more reliable - see it in a decade or two. For the real world, chip maker VIA is pretty much out in the lead for turning out the most efficient processor available.

Finally, some folks are redesigning the communication protocols themselves to be more efficient. The Institute of Electronics and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) now have an Energy-Efficient Ethernet study group in place. It's technical, but bottom line it's going to save $450 million in the US alone. We also got people working on the protocols for wildlife tracking devices to maximize battery life out in the elements. Caribou not withstanding, I'm sure theres some spillover to other industries.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

DOT, FAA Ban Vista, IE, Office

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have banned Vista, IE7, and Office 2007 from 60,000 desktops. That's a major event, especially since Vista is currently hovering at about 1 percent market share. It just makes sense - they can't justify spending taxpayer money on these unnecessary changes. And it's not just the US, Cape Town is switching as well. I have to agree, the first agency I see announcing an full blown Vista upgrade is going to get printed.

A bad death spiral - it's too hard to upgrade, Dell is selling machines without it, there's no one standing in line to buy it, and Google is now raging. Who would of thought that concern for the environment would kill a giant?

Sharing - It's the Party Line

Sharing is defined as non-exclusive access to a resource. As expected, sharing pops up pretty much everywhere - Chimps share meat, teenagers share music, toddlers teach themselves to share as they move out of parallel play. My grandma had a shared party line, a telephone that was connected to both her and her neighbor at the same time. Even the ultra rich share, say, a vineyard or a yacht once in a while.Sharing saves resources, but also poses a few issues. Sometimes an single individual hogs the resource (the roommate who drank all the milk) or tries to profit off the joint labor that created it. Since sharing is a collective endeavor, it can pressure 'Us vs. Them' models considerably. This cultural disruption can be threatening - Hp, for example, sensing that sharing would cut into their profit margins, declared a war on sharing in 2002.

Be that as it may, sharing is everywhere in IT and is only going to increase. Most businesses already share networks, databases, servers because it simply makes sense - it would be silly for each user to have their own network, just as it would be silly for each automobile owner to have their own roads. Only the desktop PC, the proverbial car of the information superhighway, has not fallen into the shared realm.

But all that is changing rapidly. As resources draw scarce, IT sharing is going mainstream. With drastic budgetary reductions and the drive towards efficiency, CIOs are now looking to implement any technology that improves efficiency. And the solution is sharing - Virtualization is being used to share servers, and the shared desktop is here. At a larger scale, extranets, software as a service, and industry consolidation will continue, maybe until there are only five shared computers left in the world. When we get to that level of efficiency, we will have sustainable IT. And that's a party.

Monday, March 05, 2007

In The Gilded Cage

Frustration levels are rising among the CIOs of the world. Constantly being told that IT sucks, accused of putting their own companies out of business, they are doing their best to innovate and cut costs with very little to work with. Maybe that's why the Canadian CIOs blew a collective gasket this week having to contend with unending regulations being applied to the industry. And now with threats looming in the EU that harming the environment may become a crime, I'm sure there aren't going to be many takers left for the job.

C'mon, let's let the guys do their job - let 'em lead, let 'em manage, but make up your minds what you want them to do, and then give them the resources to do it. Give that compliance stuff to HR and finance, and let them lead your green technology projects as IT becomes commoditized. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Roast Pig and Other Delights

A Sunday list of the weird and wonderful for you.

  • Amount of power, in watts, that a typical 19-inch rack requires: 24,000
  • Number of pigs that could be roasted with that much power: 1
  • Amount, in dollars, that the Bexley, Ohio high school district will save in licensing costs by switching from Windows to Linux : 412,000
  • Number of computers that Greg Papadopoulos, Sun Microsystems CTO, believes the world will end up needing: 5
  • Percentage of senior IT professionals that are concerned about the negative impacts that their company is having on the environment: 98
  • Amount, in millions of dollars, that Dell lost this quarter, as compared to last quarter: 327
  • Percentage increase in mobile phone shipments globally: 21
  • Price per ton of scrap whole computers, full truckload, in the global spot market, in US dollars: 80
  • Price of floppy disks: 100
  • Price of clipped external wires : 1680
  • Price of Lithium button batteries : 2060

The Giant Resource Grab

Remember that scene in Titanic where Cal tries to bribe Murdoch to get a seat on one of the lifeboats? Murdoch throws the cash back at him, telling Cal that "it can't save you, anymore than it can save me." The scene is indicative of market dynamics when resources run short. In these situations money no longer matters, it's only access to the resource that counts.We are seeing all sorts of resource grabs throughout the world. Russia grabbed the gas, and is going after the nickel. China is going after Tibet's copper, lead, iron, and zinc. And Nigeria is open for business, inviting hordes of international speculators to develop their abundant minerals. Of course, the US seems to have an obsession with a black goo.

Information technology is a resource intensive industry. It requires loads of energy to run, and lots of raw materials, particularly metals, to make cellphones, computers, what have you. Some of these materials are running a little short. For example, columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore used to create capacitors for electronic equipment, is in pretty short supply. A lot of it came from the Congo, where it fuelled a bloody civil war that left 3 million dead. Egypt is now a supplier as well, but there is less and less to go around.

Tin is also in short supply and has rocketed up in price; in fact, the world probably only has a 20 year supply left. This will effect almost all electronic goods, primarily because RoHS requires lead be eliminated from solder. Tin happens to be the best alternative.

Finally, we have energy. Microsoft and Google are well ahead of the game, both of whom are building data centers in the Northwest to take advantage of the 2 cents a kilowatt-hour hydropower that is available. They need the cheap juice to support the hundreds of millions of users doing searches and checking email. Incidentally, they supply these services as 'free' to end users. Although I do believe that it is probably the most efficient way to provide these services, it doesn't seem to be as free as it sounds.

eWaste -The Curse and the Commodity

There's been a slew of recent ideas on how to address the global eWaste problem. Mike Thompson (D-Calif) has proposed a national 'e-Fee' on electronic devices. This model is called the Advance Recovery Fee (ARF), and it will cost consumers about $10 per device that they will pay up front to recycle the equipment. States and cities have been going in the opposite direction, most preferring the manufacturer responsibility model, where the vendor is billed for the processing fees. Obviously, this is a difference of opinion, and some states like Montana are already going the extra yard, with proposed legislation to get the e-Fee back that you pay to the Feds.

Other countries have different approaches. India has a few straightforward ones - ignore it, or (better?) organize the existing ragpicker army to process the wastestream. And Basel Action Network (BAN) reports that Japan has it's own solution as well - use the junk as a bargaining chip in international trade agreements. You want that new Honda plant? Take 50 tons of old computers...

It will be interesting to see which eWaste strategies will take hold. Will the consumer pay? Will the vendor take it back? Will the government care? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.