In praise (yes praise) of the data center big boys by Doug Mohney
Having been tarred and feathered on numerous occasions in Greenpeace drive-by PR papers, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are actually making forward progress in the battle to cut carbon emission. But quiet progress doesn't grab big headlines with the mainstream media, so let's give some credit where credit is due.
Facebook's Open Compute project has shaken up the hardware industry. Servers needed a serious refresh. Facebook has stimulated a rethink of the whole server food chain, including motherboards, power supplies and UPS backup, electrical distribution, and even rack design.
Yes, rack design! Like many IT standards, the origins of the humble rack date back to before there were even computers. In this case, a 1950's standard for railroad signaling relays. Changing rack size opens up different configurations of hardware and software within a standard rack "footprint" to squeeze out more space efficiency -- more computing power per square/cubic foot, rather than wasted space.
I could go on and on about Open Compute, but the important point here is that Facebook stepped up to shift the whole way the industry thinks about data center server packaging. It may take years and decades before we understand all the consequences, but hardware manufacturers such as AMD, Dell and IBM are paying attention and building hardware to Facebook/Open Compute specs. You may one day find the "standard" rack next to the Apple ][ as an IT antique of the twentieth century.
Like many, I have mixed feelings about Google. The company wants to do the right thing -- when it is the right thing as defined by Google. So you've got more efficient data centers, purchases of renewable energy, investments in renewable energy projects and a party line about how Google products allow its users to be greener through cloud operations. It's all good, but a finer look shows Google is also looking out for itself because it isn't really planning to be cash-flow neutral on any of these things. More efficient servers mean lower cost of operations, renewable energy investments translate to diversity of portfolio and return on investment, while more people using Google cloud products ultimately translate going into more dollars into the Big G's bottom line.
I get they're trying, but from a good karma perspective, Facebook's Open Compute initiative has them beat hands down. Mark Zuckerberg can wear a hoodie to visit The Man on Wall Street any day of the week in my book if his people come up with one or two more powerful, clean ideas to the data center world.
Finally, there's Microsoft. I honestly don't know if Microsoft's effort to go carbon neutral across all of its operations is going to work, but I'm willing to give the monolith the benefit of the doubt. It is taking a holistic approach to accounting for carbon in every part of its business, including putting a price on carbon -- something larger governments have tried and failed to do. Maybe Microsoft is ahead of the curve and other Fortune 500 companies will follow its example, but it has a tough job ahead.