Forget the rain forest. The Internet is the world’s true carbon sink -- at least from the perspective of one Silicon Valley vendor.
The ever-expanding IP network probably eliminates more carbon than it creates, according to Subodh Bapat, the vice president at Sun Microsystems Inc. who heads up the company’s energy and environmental efforts, speaking at a recent event titled the "State of the Clean Green Industry," sponsored by the SD Forum.
Overall, the Internet is probably “carbon negative,” Bapat said. A Google search might generate carbon dioxide, but less than driving to the store.
Think about a world without it. “You would have printed a lot more brochures. You would have printed more books. You would have traveled more. You have online shopping,” he said. “A lot of stuff has become more efficient.”
The carbon benefits of the Internet are important for Sun’s business, of course. The more people move online, the more opportunities Sun has to sell servers and storage systems.
But Bapat also made his point to urge server makers and other people in the IT industry to reach out to regulators. Right now, agencies in the E.U., the U.S., and Japan are putting together regulations for controlling power consumption in data centers. Data centers consume 1.5 percent of the power in the U.S. (and 2.5 percent of the power in Northern California) -- and the figures are growing.
The danger is that regulators will focus on reducing power that could boost Internet access, while ignoring the environmental benefits that come from the equipment that enables that access.
“There is a net value here that doesn’t necessarily follow from the fact that data centers consume power,” Bapat said. “The regulators don’t understand that there are productivity enhancements because of data centers and servers.”
In the first version of the U.S. government’s Energy Star rating system
for servers, for instance, the specifications only concentrated on idle time. That’s the same as rating a car’s mileage by how it does at a stop sign. Regulators need to look at the way a system performs under different conditions, Bapat said. Happily, the next version of the Energy Star rating for servers will examine overall server performance in a variety of conditions.
Following the Energy Star rating for servers, there will also be ratings for storage systems and entire data centers. In Sun’s view, it’s important to ensure that the regulations don’t hinder the benefits of Internet access by hindering the flow of necessary power.
It’s significant that Bapat works at Sun and yet talks about cooperating with regulators. During the 80s and 90s, Sun was one of the most vocal complainers about government interference and regulation. Many Silicon Valley execs claimed Washington just “didn’t get” the Internet, even as many of them -- Sun included -- garnered a huge amount of revenue from government contracts.
Energy Star ratings are voluntary, Bapat noted, but these days, government agencies often make them mandatory when it comes to buying equipment. So for Sun and others, it’s finally looking like a good idea to comply with the program. After all, IT managers have become quite attuned to power consumption: If you can offer them equipment with a lower ROI, they will buy it.
Sun will probably never love excessive government regulation -- who would? -- but the company certainly understands it just can’t be dismissed.
— Michael Kanellos is the Editor in Chief at Greentech Media, where he covers emerging technologies and companies in the green world.