Whatever happened to Green IT???
Isn't it funny how the human race can be so fickle? A few years ago, everybody - individuals, corporations, governments - was concerned about the future of the planet. To the extent that it coloured many discussions: "What's your green story?" was a pretty standard question for an industry analyst to ask, and public sector organisations were including sustainability criteria on their RFPs.
That was, of course, before the small matter of the global financial crisis, which understandably distracted attention from such altruistic aspirations. Current thinking suggests that we are happy to let our children's children worry about their own futures, while we concern ourselves with more pressing challenges such as keeping the business afloat, or putting food on the table.
Interestingly enough, the wave of attention about the planet's imminent collapse was preceded by a series of governance crises - Enron, WorldCom and so on. If the cycle continues, no sooner will we have got on top of our economic woes, than we will be plunged back into a phase of fear about climate change and environmental damage.
From a technological perspective, life goes on regardless. As states Melvin Kranzberg's first law (LINK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melvin_Kranzberg), "Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral." The tools we have continue to evolve, based on the duality of continued growth in capacity, and the new possibilities that arise as computational thresholds are reached.
Cloud computing, for example, is an example of what becomes possible in a mainstream sense, when both processing an networking reach a certain level. As is big data, which is both a symptom of the massively scalable distributed systems we have today and a cause of new ways of manipulating the information they generate.
Despite today's computers, networks and storage systems being able to deal with phenomenal amounts of information processing, we still don't seem to be any closer to a threshold of 'enough'. It seems too foreign a concept to even mention - can we imagine a world in which we have sufficient computer power for all our nefarious needs? A thought as unlikely as it is alien.
The corollary is that we shall continue to manufacture kit and replace older stuff with new stuff, with all the inefficiencies that implies. We shall also need to power the racks of servers, the storage systems, the desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices. As was pointed put during the last green wave, what drove many organisations to 'care' about sustainability was, less romantically but more pragmatically, more about the economics and logistics of power management.
In fact, if there is one area that has continued to evolve despite the blackout on green news, it's this - power remains a hot topic, and it is in providers' financial interests to deliver maximum-efficiency systems. In parallel, international standards and frameworks continue to develop (LINK: http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/neelie-kroes/ict-footprint/) in this area.
No doubt the latest technology models - cloud and big data - will turn their attentions to solving green issues as the mood swings from governance back to sustainability. Which fits with the other debating point of green IT - that compute resources, used wisely, can have a substantial impact on other areas. Smarter decisions, goes the argument, lead to more efficient outcomes.
Perhaps, just perhaps we will arrive one day at a situation where we have enough technology power to cover the majority of our needs. For now this remains an interesting thought experiment - but in the meantime, we can continue to look at how to use IT to tackle more general questions of resource consumption. Ultimately the planet will continue on regardless, but smarter decision making may aid all of our futures.