I have been following with some interest the series of articles in the New York Times by Jim Glanz. The series premiered on Sunday with an article entitled Power, Pollution and the Internet, which was followed up today with a deeper dive in some specific examples. The examples today (Data Barns in a farm town, Gobbling Power and Flexing muscle) focused on the Microsoft program, a program of which I have more than some familiarity since I ran it for many years. After just two articles, reading the feedback in comments, and seeing some of the reaction in the blogosphere it is very clear that there is more than a significant amount of misunderstanding, over-simplification, and a lack of detail I think is probably important. In doing so I want to be very clear that I am not representing AOL, Microsoft, or any other organization other than my own personal observations and opinions.
As mentioned in both of the articles I was one of hundreds of people interviewed by the New York Times for this series. In those conversations with Jim Glanz a few things became very apparent. First – He has been on this story for a very long time, at least a year. As far as journalists go, he was incredibly deeply engaged and armed with tons of facts. In fact, he had a trove of internal emails, meeting minutes, and a mountain of data through government filings that must have taken him months to collect. Secondly, he had the very hard job of turning this very complex space into a format where the uneducated masses can begin to understand it. Therein lies much of the problem – This is an incredibly complex space to try and communicate it to those not tackling it day to day or even understand that technological, regulatory forces involved. This is not an area or topic that can be sifted down to a sound bite. If this were easy, there really wouldn’t be a story would there?
At issue for me is that the complexity of the powers involved seems to get scant attention aiming larger for the “Data Centers are big bad energy vampires hurting the environment” story. Its clearly evident reading through the comments on the both of the articles so far. Claiming that the sources and causes have everything to do from poor web page design to government or multi-national companies conspiracies to corner the market on energy.
So I thought I would take a crack article by article to shed some light (the kind that doesn’t burn energy) on some of the topics and just call out where I disagree completely. In full transparency the “Data Barns” article doesn’t necessarily paint me as a “nice guy”. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I am not. I am not an apologist, nor do I intend to do so in this post. I am paid to get stuff done. To execute. To deliver. Quite frankly the PUD missed deadlines (the progenitor event to my email quoted in the piece) and sometimes people (even utility companies) have to live in the real world of consequences. I think my industry reputation, work, and fundamental stances around driving energy efficiency and environmental conservancy in this industry can stand on its own both publicly and for those that have worked for me.
There is an inherent irony here that these articles were published in both print and electronically to maximize the audience and readership. To do that, these articles made “multiple trips” through a data center, and ultimately reside in one (or more). They seem to denote that keeping things online is bad which seems to go against the availability and need of the articles themselves. Doesn’t the New York times expect to make these articles available on-line for people to read? Its posted online already. Perhaps they expect that their micro-fiche experts would be able to serve the demand for these articles in the future? I do not think so.
This is a complex eco-system of users, suppliers, technology, software, platforms, content creators, data (both BIG and small), regulatory forces, utilities, governments, financials, energy consumption, people, personalities, politics, company operating tenets, community outreach to name a very few. On top of managing through all these variables they also have to keep things running with no downtime.