Thursday, September 27, 2007

Server Farms and Carbon Footprints

To paraphrase a high school cheer, "Victory, victory that's my cry: V-I-C-T-O-R-Y." I've finished the 23 things, without them finishing me off.

All in all, it was good for me (was it good for you too?) -- not always fun, but educational. Sort of like library school classes in cataloging.

As I wrote in some earlier posts, the 23 things identify resources that can be used to fill particular needs of libraries and their patrons. Find a need, then consider the resources, evaluating them in terms of time and dollar cost, employee skills, and patron access to electronic gadgetry. A handy mantra might be "Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor the last to put the old aside." Or, look before you leap. The Quechup email is an example: respond to an email about a new social networking site, and your computer is infected. Even Infopeople got caught (see their September 4th blogpost.)

And then, of course, time catches up with us, faster than we may think. A September 27, 2007 article or post in Fortune magazine's column or blog "The Browser: Analyzing the Tech Biz" is titled "Are we already moving on from traditional social networking?" Traditional! But I just got here! Imagine how non-trendy a library's web presence on a social network might be in one year. Imagine the need to keep up. Not reasons to not go online, but certainly time costs to be evaluated.

My utility company (Pacific Gas & Electric, PG&E for short, pronounced by some as "piggie") just sent out a mailer inviting customers to sign up for a program to pay some extra dollars per month to balance out the carbon footprint of the gas/electricity used. The funds will be used to provide alternative methods of energy production. I'm considering it, in part because I figure it won't cost much. According to the brochure, the cost to the average customer will be about $5 per month. Whenever PG&E (spurred on by the state Public Utilities Commission) announces a rebate on past charges, I get a lot less than the average refund, presumably because I use low amounts of gas & electricity.

Carbon footprints, however, bring up the question of the hidden environmental costs of the web. Server farms and web hosting services use massive amounts of electricity for both cooling and operation. On July 8, 2006, Fortune magazine had an interesting article or blog post, "Behold the Server Farm! Glorious Temple of the Information Age!" The subtitle started: "They're ugly. They require a small city's worth of electricity. And they're where the web happens." That rhetoric, for some reason, conjures up in my mind the mosaics of Justinian and Theodora, and their courtiers, at San Vitale in Ravenna. The mosaics would have to be inside the buildings housing the servers, as the exteriors would, at least metaphorically, be coated in carbon footprints from all that energy expended to keep photographic ephemera, among other things, online forever.

Example: I recently took a cruise, but not a camera. Searching Flickr for the cruise ship and that same itinerary produced about a trillion photos by one person who apparently spent her entire cruise with a camera to her eye, photographing everything. Someone should have told her she could poke her eye out. It was pleasant to see a photo of the fruit bowl in her cabin, looking like the one we had in ours, but perhaps the carbon emitted from power plants to keep that online forever is not worth the hidden costs to all of us. I'm reminded of a scene in the movie Soylent Green, a dystopian view of an overpopulated future, in which an elderly Edward G. Robinson wearily mounts an exercise bike to create some electricity by pedalling away ------ and gee, that's maybe a solution to the problem! Maybe server farms could provide free or cheap gyms to the surrounding populations, using the bikes (and treadmills?) to generate some of the power needed! Of course, the sweaty gymn rats would add to the need for cooling ....

23 Things #23 (callooh callay)

No comments: