Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bedfellows and Bandits ala Greenpeace

Well, it's happened. Greenpeace's half-baked, self-designed, debate-structuring survey, report card thingy has hit the airwaves. The big loser is, of course, the most known brand that is closest to the bottom - Apple. Heres a few good bashing stories - Greenpeace slams Apple, Greenpeace, Apple clash over toxic waste, and Eco-Nokia and Eco-Dell win against a Bad Apple.

My first supervisor, a great guy, often talked about a community organizer name Saul Alinsky. Saul thought there were three kinds of power - structure the debate, control the process, and reward/punish. Obviously Greenpeace is going with the first one, structure the debate, by composing their own list of critieria and then selecting a few companies to compare them to.

I for one do not see the point or purpose to this type of selective study. The critieria list is horribly incomplete, and borders on trendy. For example, where is lead on the list, arguably one of the most certifiable compounds related to human toxicity? Instead we have PVC and brominated flame retardants. Where are the other huge players in the field - Cisco, Phillips, Quanta, etc? Too smart or non-recognizable to be included, I'm sure. Those marketing guys over at Lenovo must be having a party, having invented a name that no one really can relate to computing. Lenovo? Who are they? And Motorola, second supposed worst, almost no press coverage directly at them (but credit is due to PCWorld, who probably has the most objective coverage.)

The biggest crime committed here is the list itself. It comes right out of grammar school, a ranking of the big, bigger, and biggest losers (for no company made it much past seven on the scale) that concentrates on their negative qualities, qualities that are artifically generated based on faulty critieria created by a self-imposed authority. Just like High School Football, where the loony alcoholic coach screams that the kids suck until they beat Big Bad High, Greenpeace has appointed themselves as the freaky dictator of the green computing world. It's boring, it's forty years out of date, and it accomplishes little.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Greenpeace Lobs a Few

Greenpeace has published their own guide to green electronics, rating most of the largest manufacturers on a variety of critieria. Turns out Lenovo goes into the deep red; Dell and Nokia, who scored the highest (see right), get a nasty shade of orange.

I don't know what to make of these types of ratings, with self published scorecards using erratic criteria that produce obtuse results. The article contains a big arrow with the feeble ratings next to it, and pithy commentary on what these filthy companies need to do to get their act together.

I'm wiping the yogurt out of my eyes now; I would rather have people talk about money as the driving factor behind green computing than have the debate pulled back into this sensationalist pseudoscience, for that is what I think this is. Fun is fun, and the slideshow on the processing of this waste has merit, but overall this type of bombastic rhetoric does nothing except alienate decision makers and, worse, suggests that Greenpeace is simply irrelevant. Stick with EPEAT.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Next Victim Please

CNET has reported that the Palm 650 has been pulled from the European market because it is not RoHS compliant. Bye bye. To my knowledge, this is the first widespread product discontinued due to RoHS. Let's take bets on the first household name company to go bankrupt due to RoHS - I'm betting it will be a US firm. You know, the ones who are only concerned about money. (see my last post.)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Yogurt Bombs Away!

Everyone who has the slightest interest in anything environmental, lock and load your yogurt bombs! Throw them at anything that moves, that is, if your not off having intercourse under the trees at the local 420 friendly gathering that you are attending. While your at it, go hug a tree, burn your bra, and bring up Abbie Hoffman, Woodstock, and the Anarchist's Cookbook in every conversation that you have. Carry signs, fight the good fight, and grow your hair long. Tune in, drop in, drop out, om.

I like Clean Break, I really do. I read it almost every day, but today's story has me reaching for my yogurt bombs. Because, the big news is that there is money to be made with with this new round of VC funding for cleantech projects. Not just dogoodisms, but money. Did I say that you can make money doing things now that are environmentally friendly? Of course, you may do a few things to help the planet but that's not the real goal. It's money of course.

Who is the audience for these types of arguments? Because I always get the sense that we are fighting the 'Domestic Vietnam' whenever I hear them, you know the one where the only things people remember about environmentalism is what happened 40 years ago. Forgetting about the Old Green Guard, who is the new audience for this debate - entrenched power brokers who care so much about money that they are willing to let their kids be poisoned by lead, their wives die of cancer, their day spent in darkness because the lights don't come on?

Gimme a break. It's 2006. Let the sixties die. And while you are at it, let the 'money decade', the eighties, die too. Because we need all hands on deck. Now.

Another Green Computing Standard

Matt Stansberry has a nice writeup on the new standard for server energy efficiency that is being created by an industry group. The draft is available on the EPA's site. Johnathan Koomey at Stanford is chairing the committee.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Growing Obsession is Right

Here's a nice one from Wall Street Technology that suggests the shift from power (raw) to power (savings) is real. Says Kenneth Romans:

Our industry is at the leading edge of a major shift from an obsession with raw compute power to the cusp of becoming obsessed with computer efficiency," says Kenneth Romans, SVP of operations at Fidelity Investments Systems Co., the technology organization for Fidelity Investments. "Providing higher levels of customer service means more demand for compute power and storage, but at the same time we need to support those services at low cost so customers can see high returns from low fees on their investment products.

Yes, yes. I promise you, this is going to change the industry more than that DOS window did. Because we can start at power, then go to printing, then maybe a few staff cuts because we have so fewer boxes and printers to manage. . . some will reinvest the savings back into tactical and strategic innovations, some won't.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Computing, over in the UK, has launched a Green Computing Campaign to raise environmental awareness and cut costs in IT departments. They have a whole list of companies that have signed up for the campaign, including Llloyd TSB, Centrica, Network Rail, and many others. They have a charter with seven guidelines:

  • 1. Find out how much energy your IT systems use and monitor ongoing consumption levels.
  • 2. Ensure unused equipment is turned off when it is not being used.
  • 3. Educate staff to the benefits of saving energy and recycling.
  • 4. Establish a code of practice designed to minimise unnecessary printing.
  • 5. Identify IT management practices that reduce power consumption.
  • 6. When purchasing new IT equipment, chose energy-saving devices that have been manufactured in an environmentally-conscious fashion.
  • 7. Dispose of old hardware responsibly; send old PCs to be reconditioned and recycled.
This pretty much covers the basics of any green computing program. While it doesn't directly cover more advanced topics such as telecommuting, virtualization, thin clients, etc., it does get them to drink the 'power and printing' kool aid. Ummm, tasty.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Who cares? Not the Hoosiers.

At least, they don't care what operating system they run anymore. That's the feedback from this article on Indiana's statewide initiative to put Linux on 20,000 desktops. I love the defining quote of the article:

In surveying one classroom last year, he asked a student what he thought of using a Linux desktop vs. a Windows desktop, and the student responded, "Who cares?"

I find that quote telling, the kid doesn't care. I would love to have the ability to figure out what it is like to grow up one or two generations below me, pushing doorbells with your thumb, etc. Unfortunately, I can't (but see the Mindlist List for a few hints...) . However, I'm guessing it's like using a telephone for me. I don't care about who makes the phone, the color, even features aren't a big differentiator. It's a thing, I talk into it. End of story.

I've said before that just switching from Windows to Linux is not a super green thing to do, because you still have the identical infrastructure. Nor am I convinced that soaking the school districts (or, for that matter, world) with gobs of computers is really 'sustainable', or necessary. However, I do see an advantage to saving on maintenance dollars, and it appears that Indiana will be saving almost $100 million a year in licensing fees. And I bet that's a nice round number that some people do care about.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Fix is In

This is a wonderful expose of the repair cultures that exist in various parts of the world to fix electronic goods. The powerpoint slides are here. As a dedicated tinkerer from immigrant stock, I must say that I have a pretty strong hankering for fixing things myself. There can be something very beautiful about repairing objects when it becomes a national phenom - witness the American cars from the 1950's that are in Cuba, all lovingly restored and still on the road.

Most of the people of the world fix at least some things when they break - it's only in America where you get a virus and the computer gets thrown out. Reminds me of the classic image of the King taking a bite out of a chicken leg and throwing it over his shoulder. Is there really no market for fixed things? Are we really all paid that much that it's not worth our time?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Garage Sale Time

I just had a garage sale, my third one since I started doing that kind of thing. I must say it's a liberating feeling - you hunt around for junk you no longer need, stick a price on it and people come like crazy to buy your stuff. I love the fact that I no longer need to maintain these items - even tripping over them for me counts as a problem I would rather not have. I don't know why we accumulate stuff, there is probably a very deep psychological reason for it. However, my rule of thumb (different from my wife) is that if you haven't used something in two years, it needs to go in the sale.

Which brings me around to an article I just read about keeping IT simple. So many organizations keep accumulating box after box after box, each of which does a simple little thing. Oftentimes, the infrastructure never gets reevaluated and then you are stuck supporting this stuff. Branton mentions that:

Capacity utilisation — or the lack of it — is one of the biggest issues with server sprawl. Analyst firm Gartner estimates that on average the capacity utilisation of servers in a typical company is no more than 20%. The remaining 80% is largely wasted. For a company that has 100 servers, that is a huge waste of computing resources, considering the costs of maintaining these servers are not cheap.
Those figures comport with my experience - five times as much iron as you need. Here's some advice - have a IT garage sale every two years. Repack and consolidate. You'll be glad that you not tripping over this stuff when you are finished.


Another great jump off site is V-Magazine, an aggregator exclusively dedicated to the new wave of virtualization. Read twenty articles from this site and you will be well on your way to being an expert. I've added it to my most important links.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Revolution is Firing on all Cylinders...

at least according to Movadis, who is taking a no holds barred approach to its new line of Revolution servers. This review thinks that they are "headed for the propellers" with this one:

It's developed a radically different Debian Linux box aimed initially at network storage and web server applications that could challenge the budding green concerns that computer people everywhere pay lip service to since its power consumption and heat dissipation are radically lower than anything else around.

The box is appropriately called the Revolution x16 Server and uses a 16-core network processor based on the 64-bit Mips chip developed by a bunch of ex-Alpha folk at Cavium Networks. The chip is called Octeon. It can reportedly execute 20 billion instructions per second while consuming just 50 watts with no drive or 60 watts with a drive.

That's better than Sun's Niagara-based T100 and T2000 servers, which come in at about 72 watts per chip - let the battle for flops per watt begin. The most exciting thing will be when one or two other vendor get into this. That's when the CIO's will look at their quad-processor Xeons running at 800 watts and think of a big animal that lived a long time ago. Yes, that's a dinosaur coming into your mind, except it's made out of big iron.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Jinglehorse Pulling Sled O'Plenty

Jinglehorse is a big iron builder that specializes in accommodating those wacky needs that serious users need. They have stuff for Overclocking, Liquid Cooling, Custom Case Art, and yes, a green computer called the Ecosystem. It's an interesting pitch - obviously the Horse is not betting the company on green computing equipment, it's just another product they offer. This is particularly apparent when they offer items such as the QuadCube display at 6400 x 4800 pixels resolution on the same page.
Oh well, that's fine. Whatever gets us to point B.

The Ecosystem is RoHS compliant and uses about 75 watts under full load. That's probably well below average for most PC's, but doesn't include the monitor. Just don't couple it with the QuadCube and you'll be fine. They look neat too - prices start at $764.

Another Trashy Novel

Elizabeth Grossman has published High Tech Trash, one of the few books out there covering the eWaste issue. Written primarily as a narrative, the tome covers more than just eWaste but also 'human toxicity issues' that are larger in scope. The review bends towards critical, but this remains one of the only text on the topic out there.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


If you have ever used a newsgroup or forum, you must go investigate Mike Reed's Flame Warriors. He has dozens of stereotypical users with pictures and short write ups. All the characters are there - Klaxon (shown right), Evil Clown, Big Cat. You will laugh until you cry.

But Klaxon is the star today, because sometimes when you are trying to push something new you sound like a Klaxon. I'm thinking of this article that follows up on a previous RoHS post Its a good article, full and facts and warnings about how companies aren't prepared for RoHS - and let's be clear, most aren't prepared for RoHS. I enjoy Klaxons because they are, more often than not, on the cutting edge of something. Instead of summarily dismissing the Klaxons, try counting them. If you don't have any, you're not being innovative. You don't need to listen, just be aware that they are around. And if you don't have any, find some.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tag Team

Matt Stansberry over at searchdatacenter has a nice report on some hardware vendors and utilities teaming up to reduce the electricity costs related to computing. Sounds very.... green. One of the notable hookups is Pacific Gas and Electric teaming with Sun Microsystems - customers get rebates if they use Sun's T1000 and T2000 servers in their data centers. HP also has a similar 80plus program if you use energy efficient power supplies, which are generally the biggest power vampires in any computer system. I like the synergy here, let's hope we see more of these strange bedfellows.

RoHS Compliance Viewed as less than Rosy

The Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) took effect on July 1, 2006 in the European Union. While not a law, the directive restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment. Each state will adopt its own enforcement and implementation policies for RoHS.

Methinks this is very clever, as this will tend to encourage companies to comply with the lowest common denominator of the deluge of regulations that will come from these countries. However, since the fines that are levied go back to the country where your home office is located, it could become an investment incentive for governments. Right now, France has the lowest fines in the EU, 1500 Euros, while Ireland's is a whopping 15 MILLION Euros.

RoHS is a big deal. Many companies are eager to repeal RoHS, as it causes a huge burden on their operations. Similar legislation is being introduced in China, Japan, South Korea, and the US, and a lot of this new stuff will be tougher than RoHS. Similar to the EPA, I bet RoHS and the raft of laws that follow RoHS is going to be a big income generator for government. And when it comes to the environment, that's probably a good thing.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

PowerExecutive Aptly Named

According to IBM, electricity costs have doubled since 1994, and it won't be long before the costs of to power a server over its lifetime will costs more than the server itself. IBM gives us three to five years.

Enter PowerExecutive, free software from IBM that monitors and controls the power going into its new line of blade servers. I think this is a neat idea, but I was a little unclear on how exactly the software works. Consider this quote:

"Think of it as a cruise control for the power consumption of servers. Customers will be able to set the maximum power consumption for their servers and then PowerExecutive will manage the power ... so if it's set to 400 watts per server that server will never consume more than 400 watts."

So I set my power consumption to 400 watts. What does that do? Does the processor run slower, the hard drives power down, what? Moreover, why would I do that? Isn't the hardware itself managing this power. This article mentions that the software can monitor temperature in both racks and the data center itself which can prevent disasters e.g if the air conditioning fails, the power to certain servers can be cut. I need to get a copy and try it out, sounds promising.

Monday, August 14, 2006

How Low can you Go

Nigeria seems to be full or surprises these days. First they buy 1 million of the OLPC laptops, and now coming up with a computer that uses only 8.5 watts. Pretty cool, except it costs $1200 dollars. Maybe it's the classic scenario of paying what you want to get what you want. Linked from Gizmodo, because their write up gained my highest accolades.


Here's a line of PC's made by SolarPC that are a step in the right direction. All of their products are RoHS compliant, upgradeable, and run off 12 or 19 volt DC power. Assumably, that's where the solar part of the name comes in.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Monkey Time

We all suffer from cognitive bias, the human ability to disregard the facts completely and instead rely upon some other sense to make decisions. There are tons of biases, and a lot of them come into play when we deal with computing.

In particular, as illustrated by James Boyle, these biases crop up in decisions regarding open source software or collaboration learning environments such as Wikipedia. We simply have no genetic basis upon which to make decisions regarding these tools. Take open source, for example. It's essentially a bunch of projects put together by people who mostly expect nothing for their time, and in their off hours they are going to build something fantastically useful. Doesn't that sound nuts? Or how about Wikipedia? As Boyle describes it:

Set yourself the task of producing the greatest reference work the world has ever seen. It must cover everything from the best Thai food in Raleigh to the annual rice production of Thailand, the best places to see blue whales to the history of the Blue Dog Coalition. Would you create a massive organisation of paid experts with layers of editors producing tomes that are controlled by copyright and trademark? Or would you wait for hobbyists, scientists and volunteer encyclopedists to produce, and search engines to organise, a cornucopia of information? I know which way I would have bet in 1991. But I also know that the last time I consulted an encyclopedia was in 1998.

Most of the things I love about the Internet are the things that really are impossible without it. Here's a great example from my personal life. When I was wee, I collected these trading cards called Wacky Packages as a kid. I loved them, but my mom threw them out, and I thought about them for years. Then eBay came around and I found out I could actually collect these cards again - what a thrill! Open source and Wikis are the same thrill, but you have to get out of your genetic jungle to see what they can do for you.

Do My Bidding

Fat Knowledge has an interesting analysis on how many 'energy slaves' each American has working for them on a daily basis. An energy slave is defined to be some machine using the equivalent amount of calories that a typical American would use in a day (typically about 2200) The article will tell you how many, it's surprising (a three digit number).

I did my own conversion from 2200 calories, turns out it also equates to about 2.55 kilowatt-hours. That's rougly the energy to power a single PC for a single day. At that rate, I'm amazed that computers taken over the world yet; it certainly helps to explain their proliferation. At this rate Bill Joy is right, the future doesn't need us.

Electricity has long been the servant of the industrialized world. It has been cheap, abundant, and reliable. It's amazing the attiudes this cheap energy have created, and PC usage is one of them. It will be interesting to see what happens as the price of energy rises - will we keep the machines turned on, or keep the people employed? This is the sort of decision that has been made for decades in developing nations, but it will be a surprise for the developed ones.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

CIO Insight is on the Bus

CIO Insight has just devoted a good part of their July 2006 issue to a discussion on green computing! I feel great that such a prominent mag is on board. The feature length articles concentrates a lot on energy and a little recycling and it is well worth the read.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Green is My Grid

Grid Computing is up and coming form of technology that uses many networked computers to model a virtual computer architecture that is able to distribute process execution across a parallel infrastructure. Wow. It's an interesting idea to soak up all of those extra computing cycles from all over the world, or from a data center that has a few billions extra cycles per second. The Green Grid is a fine resource that describes the concept in more depth. Also, there is a good list of distributed computing projects on Wikipedia as well.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Virtualization puts a fright in Vendors

Virtualization must be heating up, as Microsoft is making some changes to its licensing policy. Business customers can now run up to four instances of Windows on the same PC, which will be a help to cut down on hardware costs. Unfortunately, most of their software (Office) is still licensed on a per client basis, and if you use Windows for your thin clients to connect to your virtual server, that is another fee. Looks like Microsoft is still in the software business.

What I would really like to see is pooled licenses for applications and pooled licenses for virtual server access. This would allow for corps to ramp up and ramp down according to user's demand. This is what green computing is all about, just enough computing power at all times to do the job.

One Eye on the Flag

I don't think I'm telling anyone new news when I say that most entities are switching to open source because it saves them money. Brazil, Spain, Norway, China, India, there's a whole list of players that are really interested in saving multiple millions from doing the switch. Guess who is pretty far down the list - The United States.

You know why these 'foreign governments' are switching to open source? A popular reason that is given is that they are unhappy with "the US lead in the software world." Frankly, I'm not quite sure what that means exactly, but it strikes me as somewhat nationalistic. It got me thinking - what if all of my desktops were running an operating system that came from Honduras? Honestly, I don't think I would like it either; too much control, too many dollars going out of the country.

The overall effect is that foreign nationalism actually pushes them in the more sustainable direction, while our nationalism pushes us in less sustainable direction. So when you are considering a change to Linux or any open source product consider this as well - are you swayed by going the Microsoft direction just because Microsoft is an American company? If you are, that eye on the flag might distract you from the bottom line.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Vickedly Vacky

Germany has just decreed that you cannot sell used software licenses. You might ask why I care - sustainability wise, there's really no real cost to producing the copy again. Aha, that is true, but this ruling and others like it will tend to push the consumer into buying the latest version of the software, and I think that might be an unsustainable thing. For example, do I really need the latest version of Photoshop, or can I get by with version 6? Is word 2005 a necessity, or can I use Word 2000? Fact is, these latest and greatest versions require Bigger Iron, which may mean a new computer. Of course, it may also push users into open source solutions as well.

Nighty Night

Power managment for desktop PC's is something that has been around a while. Turns out that there are now several companies providing software that helps you to reduce power usage when your computers are not in use. Power wise, a well managed computer can save between 25 and 75 dollars per year according to the EPA. I know, I know, it's nothing. Read my earlier posts.

The piece by Madison Gas and Electric reviews almost every package out there. Looks like Surveyor, by Verdiem seems to be the best of the bunch, I think it's about 20 dollars per machine. Others include Nightwatchman and two free tools for the EPA, EzSave and EzGPO. Really, there is really no reason not to do this. Read the great case studies at the EPA site.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Go and Sin no More

This double header by Jon Udell and Tom Yager from Infoworld is invaluable. I often spend a good deal of my time in high powered meetings trying to convince top staff that they can make their IT systems more efficient, and save the environment as well. Inevitably, what I seem to run up against is, as Yager call it, 'Religion'. He summarizes as thus:

It's hard not to become attached. There is comfort in reducing decisions to simple equations such as "PCs come from Compaq" and "enterprise software is written in Java." Bosses associate quick decision-making with competence. But when you make choices from prejudice, you're not just wasting your company's money, you're cheating yourself out of one of the better fringe benefits of working in IT: the delight of constant discovery and learning.

We all know that sometimes people get downright zealotic about certain IT things, and we know that the man in the mirror is also to blame. But moving to a sustainable computing environment requires a losing of the religion. It requires objectivity. And it requires being able to defend a long standing position better than "PCs come from Compaq". Not good enough.

Which is where Udell comes in. He recommends two books, Breaking the Spell and the Selfish Gene is suggest ways to model these types of reactions and work with them. Religions, for example, fall apart when put under the eye of the group lens. Perhaps the introduction of a corporate blog or wiki would help break down these old patterns.

Beat the Heat

Telecommuting is a topic that I haven't discussed yet, but in fact is very dear to my heart. TC is intriguing because is has great potential to be the 'silver bullet' for sustainable computing; it cuts down on gas consumption, co2 emissions, downtime and if properly designed, computer equipment.
Is also helps keep people working in the midst of heat waves, when your employees' cars overheat, or the local electric company pulls the plug on your business because you use too much electricity. Overall, it cuts your overhad bills and reduces the need for office space. More to come on this exciting topic.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Here Comes the Pitch

Selling is really nothing more than putting your goods and services into the hands of the people who need them. Really good salespeople are really good listeners, and are adept at finding out what people really want and giving it to them. Really bad salespeople are really bad listeners, and are constantly trying to tell the customers that what they want is what they have.

Virtually every hardware and software vendor has a policy related to green computing. This policy is really a sales pitch - this is what they think you want. This is a great system, except it relies upon one thing; you knowing what you want. Because if you don't know what you want out of a sustainable computing solution, you are apt to make bad purchasing decisions. Moreover, you are more likely to fall for a bad pitch, as the salesman will be trying to tell you what you want.

There are a lot of factors involved in making these decisions including costs, corporate image, user skills, etc. If you are commited to any sort of sustainable computing initiative, you should take the time to identify your priorities. Think that reusing equipment is the way to go? Read the Rethink policy from eBay. Want commit to eco-friendly hardware for marketing purposes? Examine the EPEAT registry and the policies of the big manufacturers. As usual, it will be rare to find a pitch from a company that doesn't benefits their own interests as well. That's fine, just make sure they are your interests. For example, if you are committed to moving to a thin-client solution, don't be persuaded to buy more desktops or maintenence contracts from Dell as they change their business model because they are losing money. Because as the sustainability battle heats up, there will be a lot of pitches, and its easy to go down swinging.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Linux and Cosa Nostra

Does "the mob" run Linux? Well, they certainly don't on the desktop, at least not yet. Today we are investigating why this is the case, and whether this is a good for "Cosa Nostra" - literally, "Our Thing", which is of course green computing.

Let's start off with a survey from Desktop Linux that queried 3300 users about putting Linux on the desktop. The purpose of the survey was to determine the drivers and barriers to getting Linux installed. The results were interesting; the most important reasons were that employees were asking for it and competitors had already did it. TCO was third, then licensing costs, then security. Unfortunately, the survey did not probe the deeper motivations as to why users and companies want to switch, which doesn't give us a lot of clues in terms of a sustainable computing model.

However, I think we can infer a few results. First, the fact that TCO and licensing costs were on the survey at all suggest that these are reasons to switch, and in fact these two did well in the rankings. So it's cheaper; that definitely means more sustainable since the environmental costs of the "virtual thing" Linux is nil. Secondly, the survey is designed to compare one operating system to another, not one computing architecture to another. I think we can assume that the respondents are keeping everything else the same - same network, same desktop computing environment, same file servers, etc - and then replacing Windows with Linux. So, is this configuration 'more sustainable'?

My answer would be no. Definitely no, because nothing else changes. The energy use is the same; so is the recycling fees, the three or four year obsolescence cycle, the personnel needed to support the desktops, and the needs for all the other network infrastructure that you currently have. You save on licensing fees going forward but your existing license fees are sunk costs. So, short term, it's a complete bust. You're not in the family yet.

Long term, you can be if you are willing to stay with the program. Switching to Linux can be part of the program because it extends the life of your desktops. Long term, you stop paying license fees. Long term, you can use a Terminal Server to centrally manage your desktops applications, which will also all be free. Long term, you can reduce your IT staff to manage this. Long term, there's promise if you are willing to make many changes. But just switching to Linux on your desktops will not make you a Made Man.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Crystal Ball

Moonbase is making some prognostications about the future of programming in the next ten years. On top of the list is that energy consumption will dominate computing. Here's the energy list:

  • The notions of optimizing for speed and optimizing for power consumption will begin to converge.
  • Energy efficiency will become a selling point for all “consumer” computing devices (not just battery-dependent ones).
  • We will see the beginnings of hardware and software infrastructure for energy accounting similar to that available for CPU time. This includes profilers.
  • Fine-grained billing for use of computer resources will make a little bit of a comeback. People will still prefer flat rates.
  • “Ubiquitous” computing will become popular in developed regions, but energy economies of scale (and a desire to avoid contact burns from high-powered portable devices) will be a selection pressure towards a network of just-dumb-enough nodes and centralized computers.
  • Many things will turn out to be cheaper to do than to simulate.
Lots of interesting points here, particularly programming for power consumption. As a pretty handy programmer myself, I wondered exactly how this could happen - how could one actually write code that was more energy efficient? At first glance it seemed like this was overkill, but then I saw the green wifi project and saw how this could be useful. Green wifi is a project to create solar powered wireless nodes, and part of it is programming the router to minimize power comsumption. This obviously makes sense; since the router is solar powered, very judicious use of on/off time is required. There could be some interesting logic here, maybe coupled with a neural network to determine optimal on/off times. I could see some weird stuff happening, like dropping connected users to conserve power for later on when the router predicts more users will be connected. Exciting stuff.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

11 BILLION Dollars (by 2009)

Where's Dr. Evil when you need him. According to this article there will be an 11 billion dollar market in eWaste by 2009 as this goofy, non-linear chart shows on the right. You can purchase the report for $4545 dollars online in pdf format ($3950 printed) if you are so inclined.

United we stand, for eWaste, maybe.

Looks like the Federal gubberment wants in to get in on eWaste policy. The report acknowledges that state by state Waste recycling is a patchwork of fundamentally different systems composed of fundamentally different methods of disposing and processing the waste.

The report is comprehensive, about the only thing not covered in the report is how to pay for the program. It will be interesting to see where this leads - will they charge the manufacturers, the consumers, do it for free? I've got my bet down. (hint: it's not the free option.)

The Roi Hath No Clothes

Picking up from the Squandered Computer, I happened across several articles that suggest IT investments are overrated. The scatter plot at right shows spending per employee and return on equity for over 500 companies. See the trend there? Basically, no matter what you spend on IT, your company will probably only get around 20 percent return on investment.

When you talk about any sort of serious investment for a firm, the chatter almost immediately turns to ROI. People love ROI, ROI is the king in purple robes when it comes to any major business decision. In fact, Roi means 'King' in French. Those French, they really know how to put together a language.

Roi is king, except when it comes to IT spending. In IT, the Roi is running around bare-ass naked with fistfuls of dollars. Some soundbites from the Squandered Computer merely drive this home; 31 percent of all computer projects are cancelled, 58 percent go over budget. In 1995, US corporations spent 500 billion on computers, which exceeded their profits by 175 billion. Why is Roi so unfettered in IT? For starts, it's almost never done, as it is is often perceived as too complicated to do. When it is done, it is almost always done badly, either by lumping all IT spending into one category or by using the wrong metric (e.g percent of revenue) to evaluate the program.

What really needs to happen is that return on investment calculations need to be done on all forms of IT spending, and it needs to be done right. IT maintenance costs need to be fully accounted for (energy use, recycling fees, etc.), and they need to be separated from strategic and tactical initiatives. If this is not done, companies will simply give up on strategic and tactical spending. This would really be a tragedy, as there is still of lot of opportunties left in computing and only the corporations who start doing it right will be able to grab them. The rest will be saddled with 80 percent of their IT budget going towards maintenance of existing systems, lumping along towards doomday. Simply put, if you don't do the Roi, you won't have jack.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Oh, Joy

Leaders do things that are new. The problem with being a leader is that you are often poorly understood because, almost by definition, you are one of the few people who understand the potential of your idea. Then you somehow have to convince the managers, who are focused on the current business processes, to give the new idea a go. This can be a really hard thing to accomplish, because try as you might the managers will not see the idea. Almost by definition, they can't.

Unless you happen to be Bill Joy. You know, wrote Berkeley Unix, started Sun Microsystems, blah, blah, blah. In this interview with Maria Bartiromo, Joy proclaims that green is the next big thing. The next wealth creation thing. The next MONEY thing. So when you are trying to push your green sustainability ideas to the higher ups, just say "Well, Bill Joy thinks that going green is the next opportunity for massive wealth creation." It can't hurt to have Bill on your side, and it might just help.

Smelly Gold in Smelly Hills

Classify this one as 'Recycle'. Landfills are starting to look like mighty appetizing hunting grounds for metals, particularly copper and gold. Why? Well, eWaste is just full of these riches; according to the article, one ton of scrap from discarded PCs contains more gold than can be produced from 17 tons of gold ore. Although landfill mining been tried for years (mostly without success) the big driver will be the energy costs to process virgin ore. Simply put, as the costs rise to crack open boulders, the cost to sift through household waste become more attractive.

Is this necessary? Well, with Peak Copper right around the corner, it seems like the world will need every wire we can muster. Might be a good idea though, to keep the PC's out of the landfill in the first place and store them in a warehouse for processing later. With about 70 percent of all heavy metals coming from eWaste, the PC's are the gold nuggets.