There is a growing consensus that global warming is one of the greatest threats facing humanity. Increasingly, governments and citizens are becoming aware of the severity of this threat and are clamoring for solutions. However, there is a potential to allow the Internet community to provide leadership in addressing global warming. This is a community that is used to rapid changes and includes many of the most innovative people in the business world.
First, let’s review a few points about global warming. At least a 15 to 30 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 will be needed to keep the temperature increase less than 2°C, and a deeper reduction by 60 to 80 percent may be needed by 2050. This means that it will be necessary to go beyond incremental improvements in energy efficiency, current lifestyles, and business practices if we are ever going to have any hope of mitigating the threat of global warming.
The strategic use of new Internet applications and business models can contribute significantly to energy efficiency and sustainable economic growth, as well as job creation. It can increase efficiency and innovation by allowing people to work in more flexible ways. More importantly, new Web applications will also ensure a shift from products to services built around next-generation Internet tools like SOA and Web 2.0, among others.
A great example of leadership in addressing global warming is a new program from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) called the Connected Urban Development initiative. The purpose of this program is to work with various cities and other organizations in the U.S. and other countries to pilot new, innovative solutions that will minimize global carbon dioxide emissions. Such solutions include new approaches to telecommuting, intelligent traffic management systems, smart buildings, etc. Although this is a pro bono program on Cisco's part, once again the company is thinking ahead of the curve and establishing a mindset linking solutions for global warming with Cisco technology.
At the same time, while the world wrestles with the challenges of global warming, the Internet research community is doing some serious soul searching on the future of the Internet. To date, most of the discussion has been about technology issues of IPv4 versus IPv6, next-generation Internet versus next-gen network, network neutrality, semantic Web versus Web services, and so on.
Fortunately, there is the promising new concept of "Internet virtualization," which may considerably reduce the power consumption of routers, switches, and computers. Researchers are now talking about building virtual computers, networks, routers, and switches as a key architectural feature of the future Internet. Initiatives from the National Science Foundation, the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI), and User Controlled Light Paths (UCLP) are all based around the concept of representing physical resources such as computers, networks, and routers as independent virtual resources.
Virtualization permits multiple, independently managed networks and virtual organizations to exist on a common high-energy-efficiency network substrate. It will allow all the modern advantages of intelligence and control at the edge to be maintained. New applications and services -- such as peer-to-peer and Web 2.0 -- can be deployed by users without getting permission of the owners of the underlying substrate.
Large, centralized, and extremely efficient ICT equipment using renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, may be the future physical architecture of the Internet. No one wants to go back to the bad old days of large, centralized mainframes and carrier networks.
The bottom line is that the future Internet represents an incredible leadership opportunity for Internet researchers and corporations to find new solutions and create new business opportunities in terms of reducing global warming, one of the greatest challenges facing this country, if not this planet.
[In next week’s ThinkerNet post, I will discuss a similar challenge for the Internet research community: How the Internet can enable the average consumer to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.]
— Bill St. Arnaud, Senior Director of Advanced Networks, Canarie Inc.