Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Episode 12: Carbon in the Cloud & the taxing questions for Ireland

Ireland has set many of milestones so far with respect to the Cloud. We've our first dedicated cloud computing third level course, our Government has talked about a Cloud Strategy & the importance of Cloud Computing to Ireland, we had Irish businesses bought over by large international companies because of their head start in the Cloud, we've had venture capital companies invest into Cloud computing businesses. Now Ireland's Cloud contributions face something that has been coming for some time, carbon taxes tangibly  harming its growth potential.

Ireland however, will not be alone. It's biggest & nearest trading partner also seems set to introduce a carbon tax in its budget later this year. While Ireland has already had an carbon tax in place since our Novermber 2010 budget, it looks set to increase under pressure from our EU/IMF deal, which has already been outlined in a Department of Finance published paper.

In 2007, it was estimated that the I.T. industry as a whole contributed about 2% of the carbon emissions in the world according to a Gartner report. That put it on par with the Aviation industry, which is constantly under-fire from the Green movement on its eco-record. Gartner said the solution was fewer servers, better management of resource consumption, increased virtualisation, & better capacity planning.

In 2007, when Cloud was slowly taking off here in Ireland, that sounded great. It made for compelling sales patter. It made for a great eco-friendly story to sell the cloud with, when the idea of carbon taxes was being introduced. It was a great time to sell the concept of the 'Green Cloud'.

The Green Cloud has been a concept that has existed as long as the idea of Cloud has. Greenpeace however in 2010 showed an example of the real problems that Cloud Computing faces in terms of its environmental impact. It also highlighted that if Cloud Computing is now going to be the driver of the I.T. industry, it must also influence how the energy that is to power it is sourced. Michael Dell in an interview with Forbes Magazine said that  "I.T. is the engine of an efficient economy, it can also drive a greener one."

As the demand for Cloud Computing increases, multiple cloud providers have opened for business in Ireland in the last twelve months. Wirtualisation companies have taken off, & gathered in the market. With these will come an increased demand for data centre space. This increasing data centre space requirement will see  an increase requirement for the provision of power for the infrastructure, as well as  cooling systems, power supply fail safes such as generators (usually diesel) & battery systems. All of these are an eco-warrior's bane. Again, the Greenpeace report looked at the greenhouse gasses development from increase data centre creation, & it wasn't a pretty picture being painted.

It also showed that companies in the U.S. like Google led the way when it came to energy sourced from renewable sources, but Yahoo! was the clear stand-out with nearly one third of its energy used coming from renewable sources.

But how does this affect Ireland? These companies (Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Google, IBM, HP, Intel etc), have invested significantly in the country, provided thousands upon thousands of jobs, & Ireland still is heavily dependent on 'Brown Power' (oil/coal/fossil fuels etc). We still have issues in making better use of freely available resources to us to exploit so we can shift our dependency away from fossil fuels, thereby reducing our energy imports, which would in turn allow us to reverse the role, & become a significant energy exporter.

Each day, almost twenty times our energy needs is washed against our shores & still Ireland procrastinates in the area of renewable energy. Yes, we have a number of wind energy projects. We've one of the highest growth rates for this in the world, but no-where near what could be achieved. This comes down to horrendous planning laws, & poorer administration of our planning system in general. In some instances, wind farms don't get built by their developers unless there is a confirmation of guaranteed connection to the national grid, & the entire development project remains contingent on the fact there is absolutely no guarantee of connection to the grid, which seems foolish.

With Cloud Computing increasing in Ireland as we move forward in being a hub for these services to Europe & the world, our greenhouse gasses & carbon emissions will increase. These increases will become subject to these increased carbon taxes.Costs of these services will increase, hamper their ability to be competitive while other nations have greener power sources, & benefit in the market along with lower unit costs of service delivery. This may leave Ireland missing its place on the Cloud gravy train.

If we are to pursue our national agenda & interests in Cloud Computing, Ireland as a whole must make our energy strategy towards shifting to more renewable energy sources in Ireland an integral component of that framework. Commercially, it would be ideal to have a paradigm shift towards more of the 'free-air-cooling' datacentres like Microsoft's own here in Ireland, or others adopting FaceBook's own recently made-public datacentre & servers model.

The issue of datacentre green credentials & its service platforms 'being green' to grow with this rapidly expanding market is really a small part of an even larger global Cloud issue that Ireland will have to confront head on with its notoriously expensive costs to do business. Lower costs for Cloud services for suppliers & end users is a must to be competitive in what is a global service arena given the nature of the Cloud. The green side of it however is not an issue for tomorrow. It's an issue that should have been resolved earlier this morning. We're now in the afternoon without a comprehensive plan or answers, or idea of a solution with the clock still ticking.