Skip to Content

Is too much computing bad for the planet?

I am now in Dresden, Germany for some work. The guy who sat next to me in the flight from US told me that he designs data centers, like how the power supply works, how the cooling works and so on. This is a totally unknown area for me, and ever since our chat – I have been thinking about it.


I have read about how much damage data centers do to the environment, and have always related it immediately to power hungry computers and such. I also had a brief idea on SAP’s announcement that it will actively reduce its emissions.  I am a newbie to both the finer details of data centers, as well as finer details of sustainability and green initiatives ( apart from blogs I read of Marilyn Pratt and Jim Spath). So, please pardon my ignorance. I never thought about what else causes this before now. And all I am doing here is thinking aloud.


When I click on something on internet, that message rushes through several networks to some datacenter and hits a computer, computer processes something, and returns a message to my browser. I imagine this eats up a very tiny amount of power, and hence a very very tiny resulting emission. But I do not stop at one click – I do all kinds of things that need a machine sitting in some datacenter to do something. And it is not just me – it is everyone who needs to work on a server based solution, and for work and non-work usage.


Assuming that all the work we do is some how good for greater good, I will leave it alone and focus on non-work usage. Every time we do something on any of the zillion sites, we are somehow contributing to the increase in emissions. Stretching this quite a bit – even blogging about it and engaging in a conversation about sustainability and green stuff on internet (like a virtual conference) is kind of hurting the cause we are supporting, huh? If we try to campaign via a magazine or newspaper – trees need to be cut, and that is not good either. Or are we trying to find the lesser evil here?


I am aware of a few things going on around me to make this a little better.


1. Better design of data centers, like more efficient cooling, better load balancing, virtualization etc


2. Designing less power hungry processors and computers


3. Planting trees, recycling, car-pooling etc to prevent further emission increases.


4. Trying to tap solar and wind energy more (read somewhere that there are solid plans to coat walls and electronic devices with a coating that can absorb solar energy and produce enough power for a house or a cell phone. Another article talked about using sound energy to charge cell phones. World is not short of smart people, so maybe this will all hit the market one day soon)

and so on….


What I don’t know, but want to know are….


1. What about the ever increasing usage of computers and networks? Will people ever reduce using internet? probably not. So do we need to get more savvy in how and how much we should use computers/internet? Will it help if I don’t open twenty screens on my machine at a time?


2. What are we doing on software design side? Example – should we factor in the impact on environment when deciding whether certain logic should be implemented on client side, as opposed to server side? This also raises another question in my mind – Is server design more efficient than laptop/desktop design when it comes to power consumption and emissions? or is it the other way around?


3. What about development lifecycle of IT products and projects ? can we do anything better – say more sophisticated but less number of test cycles?  


4. And the BI guy in me won’t go away till I ask – is there a way to smartly measure the damage I do to the planet with my computer/internet usage? If I can measure it, I might have a prayer of controling it some day.


5. Will our long held theories on networking, database and algorithm efficiency hold up when inspected under the “green” light?


As always, I am eagerly looking forward to learning from all of you.

1 Comment
You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
  • Not at all…Think scientifically. Apply thermodynamics(Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed). We are computing the available data. Only the scope of application is vast, wide and vivid.How to overcome the comuting network jams can be the major issue in coming days.Only the troubled waters will yield to some solutions.Things will improve in the coming days than rather worsen.