There are a lot of Cloud computing conferences these days. IEEE Cloud 2015 will be held in New York on June 27th and the ACM Symposium on Cloud Computing will be held in August in Hawaii and various regional conferences and workshops on cloud themes abound. The 2015 IEEE International Conference on Cloud Engineering was held this last week in Tempe Arizona, USA. This is the third instance of the conference and there is every indication that it is gathering a reputation as a strong, technically oriented event.
Environmental Sustainability and the Cloud
There were several interesting research trends that were apparent at this year’s event. The first of these was a clear recognition that cloud engineering is much more than the mechanics of data centers construction and optimization. Highlights of the meeting included two panel sessions. One panel led by HJ Siegel looked at the issue of sustainability. My assumption was that this was going to be a discussion of business models for cloud vendors, but the topic that was discussed was much more interesting. Can the expansion of cloud infrastructure keep pace with our exponentially growing demand for new apps and services? Can the planet sustain the growing energy requirements of the cloud? Or is a positive side to the story? The data center is just one part of the big cloud of interconnected devices and networks. The public cloud vendors have been working for several years building data centers that are driven by renewable energy such as wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and solar and many of the newest data centers are carbon neutral. But the data centers are only a one part of energy used by our ubiquitous information-rich lives. Getting the data on how much energy is used by our systems is a non-trivial task. One fascinating report is provided by Greenpeace (April 2014). In terms of shares of the total pie of cloud related energy consumption the cloud data centers represent about 20% of the total, the network itself represent about 23% and the remaining 57% is consumed by our devices. In terms of total global energy demand the cloud ranks 6th in total use (behind China, US, Japan, India and Russia and ahead of Germany, Brazil, Canada France and the UK.) This world-wide cloud generates 2% of global emissions which is apparently similar to that produced by the global aviation sector.
There are some surprising observations that have been made about the way the cloud uses energy. A McAfee’s report “The Carbon Footprint of Spam” concludes that approximately 62 trillion spam emails are sent each year consuming 33 billion kilowatt hours of electric power which translates into greenhouse gas emissions equal to 3.1 million cars on the road using at least 2 billion gallons of gasoline. Streaming data sources also account for a large part of the cloud traffic. Netflix and YouTube together account for 47% of prime time internet traffic. According to the digital power group, streaming an hour of Netflix every week uses more power than two refrigerators running for a year. And a growing number of data-collecting cell phone apps are sending vast streams of data back to the app developers. One participant at the meeting referred to this as the “dark matter” of the Internet.
Geoffrey Fox led a second panel at the conference that took up the topic of the “Internet of Things (IoT)”. It is anticipated that 50 billion devices will be on the network by 2020. This number represents a continuation of the exponential growth of the cloud as shown below.
The potential for overloading the communication fabric and adding additional stress on the environment is there, but there is also great potential for the IoT to help us manage our planet and its use of resources. Cities are becoming “smart” and using sensors and instruments to better manage and plan our urban environments. Urban Science is growing as a data intensive discipline. But the IoT goes well beyond our urban areas. Data gathering instruments in sensitive ecological zones can monitor human impact and alert us to ways we must take action. We are starting to see progress on the ocean observing network of sensors that can help us better understand the impact of climate change on aquatic life. One topic that came up in the panel is an observation that the cloud data centers cannot be the home for all of this IoT data. We must continue to build data analysis facilities at the edge of the network to do initial analysis and response. Large scale data analysis can be done on summarized data streams in the big data centers. Elizabeth Kolbert in her new book makes the argument that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction and human impact is the cause. Unless we can understand the planet — and our impact on it — as a single system, we have little hope of avoiding some very bad outcomes. This IoT is becoming one of the key instruments needed to understand this system.
Back to Cloud Engineering.
Sustainability and the IoT were certainly not the only contributions of the meeting. The conference had very interesting sessions on security and modeling and simulation and other engineering topics. In addition there were attached workshops on software defined systems and container technology for clouds. The conference concluded with a brilliant keynote talk by Douglas Terry on important and practical models of cloud data consistency.
The conference next year will be in Berlin. It should be fun.