Future of the cloud

Interesting column from John Naughton in today’s Observer on the potential issues of an increased focus on ‘cloud computing’ ie using online services like Google Docs, etc. Firstly he talks about the recent outages in Asia caused by the Pakistani authorities re-routing YouTube to nowhere – in other words, just how stable is the web? – and secondly he discusses the environmental issues.

A comprehensively networked world requires unconscionable numbers of ‘server farms’ – huge warehouses stuffed with computers consuming vast quantities of electrical power. We haven’t yet begun to think seriously about the environmental footprint of this kind of technology, but it’s clearly significant.

Some companies are already aware of the looming environmental issues. Google’s senior executives are reportedly obsessed with their company’s power consumption. And last week IBM launched a new mainframe which provides the computing power of 1,500 PC-based servers but with 85 per cent lower energy costs. Perhaps this is a token of what’s to come: the mainframe is dead; long live the mainframe!

Or, the network is the computer. Interesting, the green angle on this. I had always equated innovative methods of online working as being environmentally friendly. This aspect has taken me rather by surprise.