Are cloud computing devices really responsible for harmful carbon footprint?

7 04 2010

These days it’s nearly impossible to browse news sites without being bombarded by the latest updates on Apple’s iPad, especially with its public release Saturday. What we haven’t heard much buzz about is the potential damaging impact of cloud computing- a concept that the iPad will depend greatly on.

Major companies, including Google and Apple, are constructing massive new data centers geared to cloud computing in North Carolina, home to the FutureWeb conference, and dozens of international locations.

Apple’s $1 billion data center in Maiden, N.C. is due to open soon. It encompasses 500,000 square feet, making it roughly five times the size of the company’s existing data center in California.

View a clip of the Maiden Apple data center:

Google’s new North Carolina data center, housing thousands of servers, cost $600 million and is located in Lenoir. The company has at least 11 other significant data centers in the United States, with many others located across the globe.

Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo are some of the other companies getting into the data centers race, building gigantic warehouses packed with tens of thousands of servers in locations with cheap energy costs. Today, Google alone runs as many as a half a million servers to handle business in cyberspace.

Some data centers are beginning to have more environmentally conscious structures. Yahoo! is constructing a $150 million data center near Buffalo, N.Y. The site was specifically chosen for its low cooling costs and the ability to use fresh air cooling. The Yahoo! data center will also enjoy ready access to low-carbon and low-cost hydro power.

In anticipation of the iPad’s release, international environmental advocacy group Greenpeace released a study highlighting the possible harm that surrounds such cloud computing devices last Tuesday. The report, titled “Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change,” shows access to the cloud of online services can contribute a much larger carbon footprint than previously projected.

Cloud computing is a metaphor for a system where the Internet stores all personal data, including computer documents, entertainment, news and other products and services that are delivered to your personal device. The creation of the cloud carries the larger implications of loss of personal data control and access to private information.

An abstract of the Greenpeace cloud computing report, posted on the organization’s Web site, said:

“To be clear: We are not picking on Apple. We are not dissing the iPad. Apple is the master of promotion, and while we marvel at the sleek unpolluted design of the iPad, we need to think about where this is all leading and how, like all good surfers, we can make sure our environment stays clean and green.”

The report says in order for cloud computing devices to become more environmentally friendly, they must provide service from renewable energy sources and utilize IT services that are devoted to using electricity sources that remain green. When ICT technologies partner with “responsible cloud computing,” the industry will be effectively driving out “dirty sources of energy to address climate change.”

Greenpeace’s study echoes the explosion of mobile cloud applications we have witnessed in the past few years, mainly through the launch of the Google phone, Microsoft’s Azure cloud services for business… and now, the iPad. The reoccurring trends in these services point toward an increased size and scale of data centers to support these major brands. The study questions the resulting electricity consumption and dangerous emissions from these centers, as well as future sources of energy that will certainly be necessary to support the growing demand for such services.

The controversy surrounding cloud computing’s carbon footprint isn’t to say that Apple hasn’t taken measures toward a green focus. At Apple’s unveiling of the iPad in January, the company noted the new device features hardware that is free of arsenic, brominated flame retardant, mercury and other chemicals that are harmful to the environment. The iPad is also “highly recyclable.” Apple also reports that less than 5% of its emissions come from manufacturing facilities.

BusinessWire issued a press release last Wednesday, which was coincidentally Earth Day, saying: “one of the boldest green initiatives involves the technology of computing.” Statements from leaders in the technology industry support the belief that cloud computing might be the answer for utilizing computer power more efficiently.

Ryan Peterson, President and CEO of OCZ Technology, a San Jose-based company that designs, manufactures and distributes high-performance drives and premium computer components, says there are many green benefits to cloud computing devices. In the press release he says:

“The flash memory utilized within solid state drives (SSDs) is faster and uses significantly less power than conventional hard drives. Because SSDs allow users to access their data electronically, rather than mechanically, they also eliminate the need for a large, costly storage area network. Without such a massive array, there are colossal power savings.”

While the popularity of cloud computing devices is amplified, the debate over the possible carbon footprint is ongoing.  Still, many remain hopeful for an environmentally friendly future in the technology sector.

Michael Dell of Forbes magazine says in the Greenpeace report:

“I have always believed that IT is the engine of an efficient economy; it also can drive a greener one.”

For more information on speakers, topics and details of the FutureWeb conference, visit the FutureWeb site. To register for the conference, click here.

By Ashley Dischinger


Facebook continues making moves in the corporate direction

6 04 2010

Integration between large corporations and social media is continuing to increase, and it’s hard to imagine how everyone is keeping up. In light of new Facebook protocols and some insightful predictions from Mashable and the Wall Street Journal, it appears as if Facebook will be upping the integration ante once more.

Last Friday, Facebook debuted another controversial Site Governance law concerning privacy, which sparked some interesting conversations about third-party websites having access to the personal information of consenting users. Under the new offer, Facebook proposes to provide personal data to “pre-approved third-party websites and applications” unless a user chooses to opt out of that feature in their privacy settings.

Furthermore, Facebook may soon encourage users to “Like” brands. According to Peter Kafka of MediaMemo, people click “Like” twice as often they click “Become a Fan.” This is a problem for corporations trying to reach out to audiences through the Facebook platform. Most public relations strategies involving Facebook hinge on that one button click to “Become a Fan.” If users don’t engage this way, then companies cannot reach out through updates and campaigns because these targeted messages only go out to fans.

Will these minor governance modifications be the catalyst that will finally bring brands into the coveted social lives of Facebook users? Apple seems to think so. Earlier this week Apple created an application for their App Store. The App Store is now a Facebook fan page and it’s off to a momentous start, attracting over 120,000 fans in its first week. The page mimics the iTunes store to a T; the features tab even has an “App of the Week” and a Top 10 Chart.

Not only can this simple fan page generate major income for Apple, but it is also a great way to track customer feedback.  On the App Store’s wall there are dozens of new apps posted every day and hundreds of comments from Apple customers under each one. On the other hand, because these posts are in the Facebook medium, it is even harder to sift through the junk. Many posts on the page contain profanity and some posts are not even related to the subject. Some users already complain about how difficult it is to sift through the user comments in the digital Apple store, will the introduction of this App fan page just add to the noise? Or will it make purchasing an app a simpler decision?

Many large companies are struggling with this dilemma. Businesses know that decisions about their products are being made on locations on the Internet other than their corporate site, but they don’t know how to effectively harness this knowledge to their advantage. In the future it’s likely that we all can anticipate a greater corporate presence on Facebook and more customer-centric and interactive elements on corporate sites.

By Lianna Catino

Apple unveils anticipated iPad

3 02 2010

Last week, Apple introduced its highly anticipated tablet computer device, the iPad. The iPad acts similarly to the popular iPhone, running existing applications from the Apple apps store but with a much larger, nearly 10-inch screen. It is currently priced at $499 (not including applications, which will cost around $4 each).

According to Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, the iPad will be about a half-inch thick and weigh about 1½ pounds.

“What this device does is extraordinary,” Jobs said in an interview with CNN. “It is the best browsing experience you’ve ever had. … It’s unbelievably great … way better than a laptop. Way better than a smartphone.”

The iPad will allow users to read books, newspapers and magazines electronically, chat with friends, type and surf the Web.

However, the long awaited tablet device has been receiving scrutiny from hopeful admirers, and not just for it’s name being linked to a woman’s personal hygiene product.

The iPad does not have a camera (although Apple has already announced a camera connection kit which will include a $30 pair of adapters which will let you either plug the camera in direct or plug in an SD card to pull out the photos). It also does not have a USB port, phone, or Flash capability and there have been talks of its inability to run multiple applications at one time.

“The innovation is going to be limited to what’s possible [on the iPad], you know,” said Peter Farago, vice president of marketing at Flurry, a group that tracks app sales in a CNN interview. “I don’t think imagination can override the true limits of what’s offered.”

The iPad, used as an attempt to save print journalism some say, may still be in too much of its infancy to produce what users want while slapping on an expensive price tag.

“A large fraction of the public doesn’t read the news online as they did in print,” said Pablo Boczkowski of Northwestern University in an interview with Slate Magazine.

“They’re more interested in browsing, searching, linking, and interacting than they are in long, sustained intakes of information. “Put differently,” he said, “getting the news online is normally surfing, less often snorkeling, and very rarely scuba diving. Most people need a simple surfboard, rather than the complex—and costly—diving gear.”

According to Apple, there will be many more versions of the iPad to come. Only time will tell if the device becomes the next everyday household item or if it is merely a passing technological fad.

-By Laura Smith