Data and Green Clouds #BAD09

Most of us work with data. It is the lifeblood of the digital world and with the falling cost of computer hardware we can store it in abundance — so we do.

Green grass

Image released under the Creative Commons by bburky on Flickr.

A new trend for storing our data is emerging. It’s known as Cloud computing. With the Cloud, our data is stored in highly efficient data centres that allow us to access our data from any internet connected device. Some services you may use that are built on this technology are:

Cloud computing has for the most part been seen as a greener way to serve and store data. It is all about efficiency. With a data centres built for one purpose we can achieve higher levels of energy efficiency and improved performance. The Cloud also benefits from scalability — a reason why it has become so popular among web start-ups.

On the face of it this all sounds very positive but I cannot help feel we are making the same mistakes that we have made in the past. Lets compare Cloud computing to Monocropping. With Monocropping we produce one single crop in abundance, that’s our data centre. We then ship that crop from the fields, to a distribution centre and from there to the supermarket. That is the internet. We then head to the supermarket and bring it home, that’s our ISP and home computer. So what is wrong with that?

The problem is that its completely inefficient. Lets pick on Spotify. Rather than have a song stored locally on my computer I have to stream that song to me wherever I go. The bandwidth and computing power required to do that for every single song I own would soon add up. Rather than the data travelling from the hard drive of my machine to the speakers, it has to travel half way across the planet. Any efficiency gain made at the data centre is instantly lost with the constant shipment of 0’s and 1’s to and from the cloud to my machines. Multiply this by every internet user and I cannot help feel the cloud (at least for some applications) is a step in the wrong direction.

All is not lost though. To improve efficiency of the Spotify example above we could all delete our digital music. This would instantly free up a huge amount of computing power and storage space. If this save of computing power could be put to good use (rather than end up as e-waste) we might just be onto something. Essentially we would have one library of digital music that the entire planet accesses on demand. I quite like that idea.

The problem is, we love our data. We are married to it. We make backups of backups and get extremely upset when it gets deleted. Cheap technology allows us to hoard and save anything we wish — no matter how pointless or redundant. On this computer I have files that are over five years old. I never look at them and yet I am compelled to keep hold of them (and back them up).

These questions need to be considered before we rush ahead at the rate technology carries us. Before every major technology shift we must ask if our climate and environment can sustain it. My CD’s are dusty, my cassette tapes are in the bin and in the end — it’s just music (to a fat cats ears).