The Green Trend - Time for the IT Cross over?

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Two topics were trending this week as temperatures in the Netherlands hit an uncomfortable and record-breaking 40 degrees celsius. It got me thinking that the software industry should revisit the decade-old concept of Green Software.

Of course, it comes as no surprise the weather was the top trending topic with the increased average temperature throughout the year. The other hot topic in the Netherlands is that in the past few months the Netherlands is fully producing its daytime electricity demands with renewables, mostly solar but also wind, with a lot to spare actually. But also the demand on this energy for utilization of powering/cooling data centers.

In the public forum, citizens concerned about climate change raise the prospect of increasing renewable energy and the percentage contribution to the national grid. On closer examination, the development of these large data centers is usurping newly available green energy. Power from windmill farms destined for local consumption is instead being redirected farther from home.

Putting my IT glasses on and reflecting upon these recent events, Green IT was an initiative to measure how efficient programming can impact energy consumption in data centers. 

And, YES! SIG with university partners was able to measure and prove a causal relation between efficient code bases and the energy footprint.

Although this effect is minuscule when looking at an individual search at scale, the cumulative impact is significant. Estimations put the global electricity consumption of data centers around 1 percent of our total usage. With the upcoming climate and usage trends, this will only increase. We’ve seen innovations in hardware and scaling strategies that have suppressed energy usage from rising too much in the past decade.

Now is the time for software to innovate and go green!

Instead of thinking of how we can throw ‘more’ resources at the problem, let’s see how we can be more efficient and utilize fewer resources. However limitless energy, computing power, and data storage become, there is always a cost and an impact.

Software can be the next thing that makes a difference in keeping energy consumption low. How? Well, that is more difficult. We have some parts of this puzzle, but we are missing some of the other pieces. Meaning we need to do more research, and the commercial world needs to value the craft of software engineering:

  • Good Quality Code: Good quality code decreases the volume of code that needs to be built and used. Redundancy and duplication are our enemies. There are simple software quality tenets that we should follow that can have a significant impact.
  • Efficient Code: Smart design of code implementations and algorithms brings efficiency. We need to keep developing optimization strategies either in current implementations or through the optimization of languages, compilers, etc.
  • Efficient Development processes and tools: With modern CI/CD pipelines we are testing and executing code non-stop all the time, Docker containers are built in staggering numbers on a daily basis, etc. Although this looks mostly ‘free’ at the moment, the cost is hidden away in the bills of the tools we are already utilizing and that run within the very same data centers. 
  • Research: Additional research will be needed to further develop energy consumption profiles for code artifacts and to combine these into a model that allows for easy implementation at the coding level. Green specific metrics that overlap with current models applied already for application non-functionals. An example is the LEAP platform, which is already a specific collaboration across the industry that will help shape sustainable IT/Software*.

So, instead of joining the debate on climate change and adding more hot air, it is time for the software industry to re-address our stake in it. Maybe the time is right to dust off and follow through on the Green IT concept. A healthier digital world will not only impact us locally but will benefit everyone globally.

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