Yesterday, I gave the opening keynote at a Nokia Siemens Networks event in Washington DC (Environment As Economic Engine).
During my talk, I identified Cloud Computing as a mega-trend that would foster egalitarianism and Green IT. It’s the buzz of the tech-blogosphere, where the common perception is that “the sky’s the limit for cloud computing.” I shared a conversation that I’d had a few days before with a fellow tech author, where he sniffed, “Cloud computing is just a fad, a headline.” My response was, “It’s a fad like social media is a fad. It’s a fad like e-commerce was a fad in 1998. It’s a fad like email was a fad in 1995. It’s a fad like IT was a fad in 1988…..
You get the idea.
Think of cloud computing as any digital service managed from the Internet. Cloud = internet. It could be software-as services (like salesforce.com). It could be hosted business and commerce services (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or even Ebay Merchant). Managed platforms, storage, etc. all round out the constellation of Internet based opportunities.
Cloud computing is like mass transportation for the superinformation highway. Years ago, DEC found Ken Olsen insisted that the PC revolution was a fad, and eventually centralized computing would manage remote services to dumb terminals. Today’s netbook is yesterday’s dumb terminals. You don’t need processing power, mega-storage capability or stacks of RAM to manage business to enterprise functions. Think of the efficiencies!
Back to Green IT. Cloud computing is green, initially because it eliminates the need to produce discreet servers, incremental hard drives, CD/DVDs, packaging, etc. All of those require energy for production, distribution and disposal. Many of those items are never properly recycled.
Moreover, due to scale, cloud computing is energy efficient. MIT found that it gained 50% efficiency via Microsoft Azure’s service over their traditional dedicated datacenter. This is a big deal, because datacenters are the new hummers of IT. Consulting firm McKinsey released a report last year, integrating research done by the Department of Energy. It was startling: Data centers consumed .6% of our nation’s electrical demand in 2000. It doubled to 1.2% by 2006. (That’s equal to 6 million cars on the road worth of CO2 emissions). It’s on a tear to quadruple by 2020. HP, Google and Microsoft use water cooled towers and others tech innovations to achieve high energy efficiency in their cloud computing centers.
Here’s the biggest promise of Cloud computing: Breakthroughs. As Cradle to Cradle authors pointed out, “being less bad is no good.” In other words, we need solutions, not just less emissions. With cloud computing, everyone has processing power, unlimited storage and collaboration at their fingertips. Small business, schools and individuals will now contribute to the conversation. Emma Stewart, an Autodesk executive that contributes to Environmental Leader, summed it up: “Cloud computing could be the tool that unlocks one of the main drivers of unsustainable practices: poorly informed decision making. If designed, architects, engineers, general contractors, energy auditors, land use planners and policy makers are able to access services that use vast sets of dynamic, complex and otherwise un-integrated data on the cloud for pennies a minute, think of the massive impact this could have on buildings, infrastructure, land use and urban design and policy-making.”
My conclusion was threefold:
1. Cloud computing’s future depends on reliable broadband access.
2. Cloud computing will do to the discreet server or storage device what voice mail did to answering machines.
3. Connect with mega trends to contribute, scale and profit from their potential.