Cloud Green or Cloud Nine?

The cloud metaphor gives the cloud storage of our data a misleading somewhere-up-in-the-clouds, ethereal quality.

Perhaps we could use a bit of grounding from the implied benevolence of cloud storage of our unending flow of music, videos and documents.

After all the lofty green ‘n clean cloud imagery, cloud storage resolves to mundane bricks and mortar data centers.

Coal Trains of Cooling

Traditional data centers:

Require massive numbers of power-sucking, heat-generating servers that consume COAL TRAINS OF COOLING KILOWATTS.

Cloud storage is an energy-intensive proposition. For our collective well-being, two questions worth considering are:

  • What’s the energy source? and
  • What’s the impact on public safety and public health?

While a traditional data center might be sourced from a finite supply of air-fouling coal, a forward-thinking data center might be sourced from the steady winds of Wyoming, or from geothermal energy stored somewhere under the half-light and bitter cold of an Icelandic winter.

Wind Energy

In Cheyenne Wyoming, Green House Data is powered by 100% renewable wind energy. According to Green Data Center News Green House Data is about 40% more energy-efficient than traditional data centers. It helps that Cheyenne’s average annual temperature is 46 degrees F.

Hydro-Electric and Geothermal

In Iceland, west of Reykjavik, Verne Global operates a power-conscious data center that is dual-sourced by hydroelectric and geothermal power. Verne Global’s energy is 100% renewable hydro-electric power and its facility is 100% cooled by the natural environment of Iceland. Brrrr.

Present & Near Future

The Greenpeace report How dirty is your data? includes a Clean Cloud Power Report Card.

Despite a poor to middling report card among the cloud storage players, there is a trend toward clean, renewable energy.

Facebook is building a new data center in northern Sweden that will use hydro-electric power. Sited about 62 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Facebook servers will be cooled by Arctic air.

Google’s Hamina Data Center is sited on the Gulf of Finland. The data center uses sea-water for cooling rather than freon-packed compressors in traditional air conditioners.

Both Facebook and Google are driven by economics more than earth-stewardship. Nonetheless when earth-friendly infrastructure collides with profit-increasing cost-savings, cloud green isn’t simply cloud nine.


Information & The Common Good

Information is power. But power tends to corrupt whether in revered individuals or in authoritarian institutions. One need only reflect on the sordid history of the Papacy, or the recent transgressions swirling around the cult of football coach Joe Paterno at Pennsylvania State University.

Power can be a very noxious Kool-Aid.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
~ John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton

Don’t Be Evil

Many software professionals revere the information giant Google. Pundits marvel at Google’s ability to increase its relevance and reach year after year. Software developers put Google on a pedestal.

Google’s informal Don’t Be Evil motto has been adopted as a guiding philosophy by many professionals inside and outside the Google family.

We can all be thankful that the gods of search, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, are progressive thinkers. Still, I wonder about the practical limits Don’t Be Evil.

Common Good

I will be following an organization called CommonCrawl with interest. CommonCrawl launched a free, open, web search crawler and index.

We strive to be transparent in all of our operations
~ CommonCrawl

Recognizing the power of the largest and most diverse collection of information in human history is indeed heady stuff. CommonCrawl is non-profit foundation with the motto “dedicated to the open web” and a website introduction that explains their mission:

As the largest and most diverse collection of information in human history, the web grants us tremendous insight if we can only understand it better. For example, web crawl data can be used to spot trends and identify patterns in politics, economics, health, popular culture and many other aspects of life. It provides an immensely rich corpus for scientific research, technological advancement, and innovative new businesses. It is crucial for our information-based society that the web be openly accessible to anyone who desires to utilize it.
~ CommonCrawl

The need to nurture and maintain equal access to unbiased information has never seemed more critical. With the control of information, it is imperative that individuals, organizations, and states thoughtfully weigh the fruits of laissez-faire market forces with the common good.

If corruptible power is an oft repeated pattern, then CommonCrawl might some day be the anti-dote for Don’t Be Evil gone bad.

Instant Boot Bliss

Microsoft has worked the kinks out of Vista. To make a clean break with colossal failure, Microsoft has renamed their flagship OS Windows 7. Windows 7 hits the mark just in time to be arguably obsolete. The impact of Windows 7 will be marginalized in the coming year by Google’s Chrome OS and by competing products like Jolicloud.

Chrome OS is an awakening.

I have been developing web apps since the late 1990s. I’ve been fond of bragging that we did ajax back when it was known as remote scripting and used an asynchronous JavaScript call back function.

I am all about making faster, richer web apps that leave native desktop apps in the rear-view mirror. Chrome OS is an instant boot operating system optimized for a superior web experience via superior local caching and zippy JavaScript.

When Acer and HP netbooks featuring Chrome OS hit the shelves in 2010 (HP, Acer Developing Google Chrome OS Netbooks), the death knell for file-based operating systems will begin.

File-based operating systems will give way to web-centric operating systems just like film-based photography gave way to digital imagery. Who remembers cameras with roll film?

Roll film cameras like the Brownie gained popularity because consumers love devices that are expedient and easy-to-use.

You push the button, we do the rest. ~ Kodak slogan circa 1900

One doesn’t need the experience of loading 4×5 inch sheet film into a film holder, then sliding it into the back of a view camera to understand how revolutionary roll film was to consumers in the early 20th century.

Consumers dig easy to use and cheap

How many computing people ensconced in a coffee shop are not connected to the web? Yet, inexplicably, my 64-bit notebook with 8 gigs of RAM takes several minutes to boot. Adding a turtle-like virus scan to that startup time leads to significant thumb twiddling.

I have stopped being an apologist for Microsoft. Not because Microsoft doesn’t make great products – I’d still rather develop in Visual Studio than Eclipse. Rather, Microsoft has squandered  near monopolies in several product areas by being slow on the uptake.

Why are most of the forward-thinkers working at Google?

Consumer devices whose primary function is easy access to internet services, such as the world wide web or e-mail, have been with us for a while. The term internet appliance was popularized in the late 1980s and 1990s. simPC, a web appliance for  grandma and grandpa to share with grandchildren, debuted as a proof of concept in 2004 running from a solid state drive, based on the Linux OS, and requiring an internet connection.

I am going to bite the bullet to upgrade to Windows 7 on my Vista notebook. But, I’m leaving Windows XP on my development box until further notice because Microsoft, in a consumer-unfriendly decision, hasn’t made an effort to ease the leapfrog (over Vista) from XP to Windows 7.

As long as the boot time for Chrome OS, and other web-centric clones, remains almost instantaneous, the

  • technical hurdles, like richer & faster web apps and bigger internet pipes, and the
  • psychological hurdles, like data storage on the cloud rather than locally, 

will begin dropping like hapless male drones in autumn.

We have reached a turning point where

  • Price points for computers become affordable for most ($299), 
  • Web-centric operating systems are free, 
  • Software installation and virus protection becomes obsolete,
  • Software is online, and
  • Data storage is on some amorphous genie called the cloud.
Of Interest
  1. To Learn – See What We Need To Know About Chrome OS.
  2. To View – Watch Chrome OS Open Source Project Announcement video.
  3. To Join  – Register on Chrome OS Forums; a new discussion forum with valuable information about Chrome OS Install and Setup Guide and How-to Run Google Chrome OS From a USB Drive.
  4. To Speculate– Read Jolicloud aims to steal Chrome OS’s netbook thunder to see how things are heating up in the web-centric OS space.
  5. To Follow – VP of Product Management for Chrome OS, Sundar Pichai, on Twitter at @sundarpichai
  6. To Follow – Lead Engineer for Chrome OS, Matthew Papakipos, on Twitter at @mpapakipos