Cloud data storage was seen as an environmental savior a decade ago. But extreme increases in data flows are expanding the cloud’s carbon footprint, so finding more energy-efficient ways of computing seems more urgent than ever.
Last year, most of the world’s leaders gathered at COP26 to make new environmental commitments. The goal is to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C, and pressure is mounting on companies to step up and do their part.
When we entered the Internet age 25 years ago, most people only saw the environmental benefits, such as the Internet and email have depleted tons of physical resources such as paper. Ten years later, cloud storage appeared to be the new green savior in the IT world. It has reduced energy consumption for companies compared to the presence of on-site servers, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and contributed to dematerialization. But very early on, we realized that the carbon emissions from manufacturing, powering, and cooling computers, smartphones, and the massive data centers that store data in the cloud offset these benefits.
Today, information and communication technologies (ICT) contribute significantly to carbon emissions. ICT, consisting mainly of data centers and cloud computing, accounts for between 4 and 6% of the world’s electricity consumption.
The cloud: profitable and expensive at the same time
When organizations look at the environmental impact of their IT operations and look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, they often still move their data to the cloud, reducing emissions from their applications and digital infrastructure. But how much environmental impact does that have when the reality is you’re just moving that carbon footprint along the supply chain rather than removing it completely?
Let’s take an easy example. Let’s say you’re saving a standard business document. If you save it to your hard drive, it takes about 0.000005 kWh per gigabyte to save your data. On the other hand, if you save it to the cloud, a Carnegie Mellon University study concluded that the energy cost of data transfer and storage is about 7 kWh per gigabyte. That’s because cloud data isn’t stored in actual clouds, but inside buildings—huge structures filled with thousands of racks of hard drives that consume enormous energy. There are millions of data centers around the world, some of which each occupy nearly 200 acres of land.
It takes power to get data to the data center – miles of fiber optic cables dotted with other internet infrastructure devices all requiring power along the way. At its core, your data is stored multiple times on hard drives. The constant activity of all those disks creates a lot of heat, necessitating energy-intensive air conditioners to protect the equipment from overheating.
Saving a document to the Cloud is convenient as it takes it out of your hands. You don’t have to worry about losing it and you can access it anywhere. It also gives you the peace of mind of a secure backup, but at what cost?
All the big players in the industry have invested a lot of money in new Clouds. For example, Microsoft is now changing the way its private Office customers can save data on their hard drives. With the standard version of Windows 11, you’re tied to Microsoft 365, which automatically saves all your data to the cloud. You don’t even have the ability to keep it on your hard drive in less expensive versions of Microsoft 365.
So even though Microsoft has growing goals to be carbon neutral by 2030. Right now, they’re ramping up emissions in massive numbers by moving a huge amount of private customers, with no real need for cloud storage, in their Azure cloud. And the reason for this is not difficult to understand. Cloud failure could be accessible to these new transfer users for six months, maybe a year, but obviously that’s a giant cash cow, long-term, set up as it’s a subscription service, at the moment with a rate of 59 $.99/year for one person and one terabyte.
And it’s easy for Microsoft to keep customers once they’re on board. If you’ve already stored all of your data in the cloud, you need to continue to be connected with Microsoft if you want to keep it. In the information for private customers of Microsoft it is written that you, as a customer, are obliged to connect to the Azure cloud at least once a month. Otherwise, they risk slower connection speeds and software failures.
But are there sustainable alternatives to massive cloud storage, then? Of course there is.
An alternative sustainable solution for mass IoT
One company that has recently developed a sustainable alternative to cloud addiction is IoE Corp, the fast-moving R&D start-up I’m working for now. However, IoE Corp’s target isn’t private customers who need to save random documents. They provide a solution for the new world of smart cities, for embedded AI services producing big data, a world of autonomous automation, and massive IoT and IIoT systems.
Since the meaning of smart cities has started to be more about dumb apps than infrastructure solutions, IoE Corp doesn’t use that word. IoE Corp is all about developing an informed infrastructure instead, and their technology solution has large scalability. It could be implemented in a traffic light system in an area, a smart home or an entire city integrated of different artificial intelligence solutions.
What IoE Corp does is stay away from the WWW. They work at the heart of the internet, creating a secure blockchain for systems of nodes that all supervise each other, a decentralized system where data is distributed, thus not requiring large server rooms where machines need to be cooled. The idea is to create sustainable and secure systems beyond the cloud without cloud storage.
– Some services today require a cloud connection, but when it comes to IoT, for security, stability and privacy reasons, avoid the cloud as much as possible. Web service providers have built the cloud to optimize the web. Mattias Bergstöm, serial entrepreneur, futurist and CTO of IoE Corp, explains that the massive IoT and the web are not a good match.
The technology he created is based on a human-centric architecture and runs on a truly decentralized infrastructure. It’s called Eden, and the Eden system is a decentralized, autonomous, portable, and secure virtual infrastructure for managing clustered workloads on decentralized pods (depos) and services that facilitate declarative configuration and automation.
The decentralized model is based on scalable device clustering, where it is easy to add new devices as nodes. This allows any device to provision computing resources over an intelligent mesh network so that computing can happen where it’s needed and close to where it will be used. Eden is developed via secure quantum tunneling, using polymorphic encryption keys and a consensus blockchain to verify data moved between nodes through the tunnels, thus creating secure gardens of trusted data.
The orchestration of processing and storage is done through service manifests that describe the service’s rules, policies, and logic. An autonomous knowledge-based AI manages the underlying orchestration mechanisms using network consensus on the blockchain as a decision-making mechanism. Finally, the cluster topography is dynamically updated by the orchestration to match the current workload. Eden System Service Repositories are built and deployed similar to container images; repositories are Message Passing Interface (MPI) clusters enabled from the start.
Implementing these innovations in the deployment of IoT devices helps keep the energy and cost levels of computing at a sustainable level. Adding a viable option to data centers that will need to constantly adapt to maintain a reliable and secure operating system that complies with sustainable IT requirements.
We need to stop using expensive programming languages
Another aspect of green computing that most companies overlook is that the language in which the code is written makes a huge difference in the amount of energy used when running a service or program. We need to be aware of the wasteful nature of some programming languages and try to implement greener options if we truly want a sustainable computing world to become real.
There is a big difference in the type of programming language you choose. Compiled languages like C, C++, Rust, and Ada are among the most energy efficient, while interpreted languages like Perl, Python, and Ruby are among the least energy efficient. On average, when ranked by their programming paradigm, imperative languages required the least amount of memory, followed by object-oriented, functional, and finally scripting languages.
One of the most expensive interpreted languages is Python. It’s extremely popular. Global apps like Youtube and Netflix are, in general, programmed in Python. It is also often used when teaching programming due to its educational qualities and ease of use.
But of course all of this has to end soon if our goal is to implement sustainable computing. Therefore it was easy for IoE Corp, a company that works with edge commuting and sustainability at its core, to choose a compiled language in which programming instead of C or C++ Rust is used.
– The idea of sustainability through design is great, but we should remember that most of the wasteful behavior comes from the implementation, interpretation of programming languages that are wasteful and use the Cloud; that bottom line comes down to expensive code, Mattias concludes.
There is a huge and urgent need to start living sustainably. We must all do our best – governments, businesses and ordinary people – to keep global temperature rise as low as possible. And when it comes to sustainable computing, IoE Corp’s way forward is to be truly sustainable: using edge computing, a compiled programming language, and going beyond the cloud.
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