Cisco Blogs

Al Gore’s Challenge

July 21, 2008 - 1 Comment

First let me preface all comments below by saying that Cisco does not adhere to any particular political point of view on global climate change. However, we do listen to the world’s scientific community. I personally am a lifelong registered independent and believe in choosing the best team to get a particular job done. So, with the disclaimer out of the way I will say that political will and individual responsibility are the key components to tackling this massive set of challenges. However, there is a lot we all can do to take personal responsibility to make changes in our personal and professional lives.Not sure if you’ve seen it yet but the abbreviated version of Big Al’s Challenge is a good view (5:06 minutes), posted by on July 17, 2008. He makes it crystal clear what needs to be done moving forward, in my opinion. I think it’s safe to say we’ve moved past Green 0.1 which is the basic awareness that our activities impact the planet. Now it’s clear we are moving forward towards Green 1.0 which I would define as “what does Green mean to me”? Now that question doesn’t just get applied to ones home life but work life as well.So we can imagine a million little questions we ask everyday (like that paper versus plastic question at the grocery). Here are a few I ask when consulting on data center projects:1) When considering a Services Oriented approach; what system attributes are important to me (security, availability, scalability, general quality of service and simplicity of management as examples). What infrastructure is required to meet these attributes? Now among said infrastructure how many power supplies are needed, how efficient are they (total average) and lastly what feature sets do I really need within the components?2) When designing facilities to support IT systems; how flexible and scalable is my facilities design over what time period? What if I need to move/consolidate within the 10-15 design life of data center facilities? Can my design accommodate the dynamic power and cooling characteristics of a virtualized IT architecture?3) Where are we today? How efficient is our data center? Without having some key metrics to measure against how do we know we are getting better?4) What steps can we take to improve upon our net power consumption, power growth curve, emissions profile and standard operating procedures?5) Is our organization set up to support energy efficiency as a business priority?6) What is the financial case for operating in a more sustainable manner?7) What type of power source are we plugging our data center into? Is it coal, is it nuke, is it hydro? Can we implement local renewable generation to compliment our main power source? What is the ROI for renewable investment?These points are of course vastly simplified but hopefully impart some points of view that have not traditionally been considered in our daily professional lives. Just like in our personal lives, everything needs to make financial sense. This is one of the reasons I am taking a bit of a risk here by citing Al Gore’s challenge as he clearly spells out the fact that the environment, the economy and global security issues are all inter-related. As data center professionals we have a big role to play here and our operations will be under increased scrutiny moving forward.The good news is that we can already demonstrate that reducing our emissions saves money. So whether you lean to the right or to the left doesn’t matter, money speaks to both. If you would like to see for yourself, please take a look at the Green Data Center Model Calculator beta release within the Efficiency Assurance Program.Whether you agree with Al Gore’s political stance or not, he is spurring discussion which helps us all learn from each other. I’ve already received some scathing emails from putting his name up here so feel free to post them as comments versus direct mails so other can learn from your point of view. Here is an anonymous excerpt from one in particular:“I very strongly object to linking Cisco’s great energy-efficient data center story to the unscientific, inaccurate, and, quite frankly, hysterical (and completely politically-motivated) rhetoric of Al Gore.”Your thoughts?PS – the answer to the paper versus plastic question is bring your own bags, it’s not hard to do. In fact San Francisco has now outlawed plastic bags within the city limits, now there are some bragging rights!

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  1. Hi Rob,Operational costs have always been and will always be a business concern. Therefore the message of operational cost savings through energy efficiency is a universal message that has always resonated and will always resonate even if the degree of mindshare may shift according to fluctuating energy costs. For this reason I was very pleased to receive a briefing from Cisco recently on Data Center where the focus was on energy efficiency”” and not “”green””. In the long run this is the right line for Cisco to take IMO.Semantically overloading energy efficiency with “”green”” has numerous messaging complications. Firstly, all efficiencies reduce costs. In the short term both cost and energy usage goes down. In the long run the reduced costs (increased efficiency) facilitates faster expansion due to lower marginal costs which leads to greater energy usage. Consider networking equipment, it has always been more energy efficient (per bit) with each successive generation of products. Has the overall energy consumption of deployed networking equipment gone up of down during the history of the networking industry? Up I would suggest. Success breeds success. The more efficient networking and computing becomes, the more it will be used (until some productivity blocking event is reached). Energy efficiency is only green if it comes with a permanent cap on energy usage so energy efficiency is not green in and of itself, not to mention how misleading carbon reduction estimates can be if you have no idea what the energy source is.Secondly if someone believes that fossil fuel based energy is causing global warming then the only green solution is to replace that energy source – something which equipment suppliers have little control over unless they are willing to get creative about how they partner with people building data centers.Lastly, is any one at Cisco really qualified to have an opinion on global warming? Weather systems are incredibly complex and complicated non-linear systems. Every year scientists are adding new variables to the models in an attempt to make them more accurate, but it remains questionable whether there is yet enough computer processing power to truly model these systems (consider the attempts to try and use all the distributed desktop capacity to do so). Yes scientists deserve our respect, and yes we should listen to them. But just as we might observe that it is difficult for some of the smartest people in the world to get something like BGP4 dampening 100% right, it is many times harder to get weather modelling right even if improvements are being made every year. We should balance respect with perspective – does anyone at Cisco know how much energy efficiency is needed to save the planet?Energy efficiency is a simple concept to understand and Cisco’s contribution to addressing that issue is somewhat bounded and clarity in messaging easier to achieve. Taking on the green thing really takes a significant amount of messaging sophistication, extending solutions well beyond where Cisco is today, jumping on a political hot potato, asserting things which are beyond Cisco’s control (what energy caps customers have, what energy sources they are using, etc.), and an assessment that green marketing will have long run legs.From my perspective, Cisco is headed in the right direction with its messaging and solutions on this issue. In fact I will go so far as to say it is a refreshing change. It is pragmatic reflecting the difficulty of getting green messaging right and at the same time still articulates value to customers.On the other hand there may be a difference between how Cisco solutions are marketed and how Cisco itself, the corporation, is marketed. For example if Cisco has come to a conclusion that it should make a contribution by managing its own energy usage in a different way and should become “”green”” by whatever criteria Cisco would use to define that, then that is totally different and subject to a different decision criteria.”