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From My Blog: Cloud Computing and the Need for Global Power

Time to do Some Serious Thinking

About three years ago, I wrote an April Fool's story about a very large server farm that was to be built in India, to be powered by three nuclear power plants.

I, of course, thought my story was one of the funniest things ever, even if my opinion wasn't shared by all.

Then today I had a conversation with a friend of mine, originally from India and now working in Singapore, who said that India is working to build 20 very large nuclear power plants by the year 2016.

The plants would average 3,000MW apiece, an enormous amount that is about triple the capacity of the typical facility installed in the 60s and 70s during the first great nuclear power plant building boom.

So my ridiculous story wasn't that far from reality, I guess. This installed power would be twice the power consumed by the country of India just a few years ago.

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I'm consumed by this idea of power generation right now, as I think about Cloud Computing and its need for server farms. My Indian friend told me that the sub-continent is being very aggressive in building these farms, despite a serious need for the power to cool them in this very hot country.

I had been musing that perhaps very hot climates, such as found in the Philippines where I'm currently located, would be a serious impediment to the growth of server farms in those regions. "No, just buy more air-conditioning!" my friend admonished.

This is easier said than done. Air-conditioning, notoriously, had the double-edged effect of making Washington, DC habitable in the summer and thereby creating the all-powerful, sprawling, year-round mess known as the federal government.

Now the wondrous invention has spread worldwide, turning Singapore into a global financial power (if not a beacon of democracy), and driving marvelous new world-class business districts in places such as Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila, and Sao Paulo, Dubai, and Mumbai.

This leads to the question of how much power are we using today and how much will we need tomorrow? I'm relying on Wikipedia for now to learn about global power requirements, so can't be 100% sure of what I am reading. But the numbers are believable enough to me to see a few things:

1. The US is not the global per-capita leader in power consumption, as many would instinctively believe. Our friends to the north in do-gooder Canada, for example, use more.

2. Cold weather seems to drive power consumption up more than hot weather, so don't get too upset, Canada, by my first point.

3. If my second point is not true, then the world is in for a major battle to bring all the hot countries (in which a majority of the world's population lives) up to speed

4. The world average would place the earth as a whole in the category of a developing country. There's a long way to go. A simple arithmetic exercise shows that bringing the entire earth up to middling European levels in a world that is growing at 1 percent a year will require four times the amount of installed power 20 years from now than we have today. This simply is not going to happen.

In any case, I'm looking for good research on data farms, where they are now, where they will be, what percentage of total power consumption they'll use, etc. In my mind there's no such thing as "Green IT," just lesser shades of brown and grey.

I also see nuclear power as the way to go, that is, if the world is to lift itself out of its widespread, endemic poverty over the next 20 to 30 years.

Is this really a Mephistophelian bargain, though? Is there such a thing as a solution that's not some sort of deal with the devil? Does everyone know that wind turbines are major mass murderers of raptors?

What if global warming is not as serious as many portray it, if whatever effect humans have on the climate get seriously trumped by sunspots or volcanic activity or forces and cycles we're either ignoring or of which we're unaware? That still doesn't mean we can burn coal and forever, right? Or, are Saudi oil and Canadian tar sands good to go for another 1,000 years?

I see Cloud Computing as the first step in the final leg of the IT journey, the step in which computing power becomes cheap, ubiquitous, and utterly able to make utopian dreams come true for the entire world.

But we'll need power, not only for the server farms but for all the air-conditioning and accoutrements that will come for newly comfortable masses of people. How will we produce this power? And how many wars will we start in the name of it?

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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