Cloud computing - car pooling on the web - Q1 2012 - Professor dr. ir. H.R. Krikke
By having more people using one vehicle, carpooling reduces travel costs, congestion and the need for parking spaces. And it’s more sociable too. Carpooling is also seen as a more environmentally way to travel as sharing journeys reduces (carbon) emissions. Since the 70-ties authorities have encouraged carpooling.
Cloud computing bares many similarities to car pooling. Cloud computing provides (shared) computation, software, data access, and storage resources via the Web without requiring users to know the location and other details of the computing infrastructure. Shared resources are provided to users to reduce overcapacity and redundancy of those systems. At face value this is beneficial to the environment.
However, people tend to maximize their benefits and minimize inconvenience and do not care much for official government policies. Some governments have created formal car-pool hotspots, but very often these places are ignored. Instead, slugging -the practice of forming ad hoc, informal carpools for purpose of commuting- takes place at more convenient locations. Although this is essentially harmless other practices exist that do hurt the concept of car pooling. For example, in order to get access HOV lanes, many solo drivers use dummy (rubber doll) passengers. In this way they get to the office quicker. But not greener!
So based on carpooling experience, the question arises whether or not cloud computing is green. In this column I particularly emphasize the role of the supply chain as part of this discussion. Here I go again.
First, not knowing where the equipment is located presents both a strength and a weakness. A strength because as mentioned capacity is shared. A weakness because your data or computation job may end up in a country where the energy mix is far from clean. Also computing efficiency may be below standard and hence more hours of resource use are needed to do the same job. It is known for example that Iceland has very green and efficient clouds. But how can you make sure that your computation job ends up there? In fact, the concept of clouds ensures that you do not have this information. The service you require may come from all over the world. Moreover, even if the infrastructure of the cloud itself is green, the connection between you and the cloud may not be so. Data traffic can cause severe emissions, depending on the routing in networks and whether or not fiber is used. In fact, large batches of data should be processed and stored close to home. But it is virtually impossible for most users to trace and influence the routing of computing and storage jobs.
Finally, how can reuse play a role in the overall cloud computing footprint? Similar to more traditional applications, refurbished equipment can be shared in the cloud and has equal footprint benefits. And vice versa the cloud can help refurbishing: this is a typical case of "one hand washing the other". Many companies struggle to find their own products back and initial collection suffers from a lack of information on the products in the field. Life would be so much easier if all products, not just IT-equipment, would be connected to their (reverse) supply chain via the cloud. It would increase the rate of return tremendously, make collection more eficient and create critical mass for refurbishing. Let's grab this opportunity!