As delegates from around the globe convene in Copenhagenthis week to discuss climate change, a lot of eyes will turn to enterprise IT. After all, IT systems are conspicuous consumers of energy and the equipment used collectively emits a fair amount of carbon.
Naturally, most of the IT attention regarding Green IT focuses on reducing the amount of energy consumed by deploying more efficient technologies that consume less energy, especially in the data center. Obviously, the IT industry likes this approach because it helps drive the next major upgrade cycle.
But what if the real conversation isn't about energy consumption per se, but rather how we build software systems that consume an inordinate amount of processor and storage capacity? Could it be that the major reason we have so many systems deployed is that the software that runs on top of them is fundamentally flawed?
That's becoming more apparent now that we're seeing advances in the core compression technology that we use to store and manage data. A good example is RainStor, which has a data management tool that can compress data on storage systems by as much as 40 to 1. We've also seen Ocarina Networks deliver software that compresses data 10 to 1.
Obviously, the effectiveness of better compression algorithms will vary by application segment. Transaction processing may not be the best place to start, but it's pretty clear that data warehousing could benefit from some fundamental improvements to the underlying algorithms. Compression algorithms as a whole have not received a whole lot of attention in the last 10 years because consuming as much hardware as possible was always seen as a good thing. But now that the economy has changed and companies are under pressure to go green, some difficult questions need to be asked about how vendors have been developing software.
Alas, you don't hear software vendors pledging how much they will reduce energy consumption by exploring new approaches that reduce the amount of power their applications need to consume. What little talk there is about this is usually drowned out by thousands of hardware vendors trying to leverage concerns about energy consumption into a system upgrade that has been made slightly more efficient using virtual machine software.
In as much as IT equipment contributes to global warming, it's pretty clear that a lot more can be done on the software side of the house to reduce the amount of IT infrastructure needed to support our applications. The only real question is when will the IT vendor community finally reinvent the economics of IT infrastructure by making truly green software, as opposed to just trying to sell more energy-efficient processors?