Computers are becoming ever more powerful and energy efficient, so one might argue that “green computing” is alive and well. However, the tidal wave of disposable devices that are out of date long before they are physically worn out suggests otherwise. Can virtualisation help to prevent us from drowning in an endless sea of discarded gadgets? [In the style of Hong Kong Fooey] Could be…
My car is four years old and people regularly ask me when I am thinking of changing it (not least the garage I bought it from, which behaviour started exactly 12 months after I drove off the forecourt). My guess is that it has at least ten years of useful life left, quite possibly twenty if I look after it, but I don’t know a single person who has kept their car from new to irrepairably worn out (if there is even such a thing with cars). The UK government was recently offering substantial cash incentives to scrap perfectly good cars, which I find extraordinary. Is no one else aware of the environmental impact of manufacturing new cars? I admit that I haven’t done the maths, but I suspect that it if you include all the materials from ore, transit costs and factory build, it is many times the impact of all the fossil fuel it burns in it’s lifetime.
The situation is substantially worse with electronics, like phones, PDAs and PCs. Three factors are combining to create “the perfect wave”; they are the pace of development of the hardware, the reduction in hardware prices or consumer deals that make them appear cheap and the development of new software versions that either run painfully slowly on old hardware or don’t run at all. The iPhone is a beautiful example; I have had mine for nearly two years now and I am itching to change it for a new one. It is a robustly engineered piece of kit, there is nothing physically wrong with mine at all. However, it runs more and more slowly with each software upgrade, the new one has more power, a better screen, longer battery life and some tasty new features. To top it all, my phone company will offer me a new one at two years without any up-front payment or change to my monthly charge. This is nothing new, I have at least half a dozen perfectly good phones and PDAs in a box at home waiting to be recycled. What a waste! (Actually, I have recently found an organisation that reconditions them for use in developing countries, which is a great deal better than landfill).
The problem is escalating as we all start to carry more and more devices each. I met a guy recently who was carrying two mobile phones (one personal and one for work), two laptops (he was a contractor, so one was from his employer and one from his client) and an iPad (from home). I rarely carry them all, but I have to admit to owning a laptop at home, an iPad, an iPhone and a thin client machine in the office. We seem to be becoming increasingly weighed-down by gadgetry and computer hardware that we discard long before the end of it’s useful life. Not very green!
What if we could each carry one simple device as our interface to all our computing needs? If it could access computing capability elsewhere instead of relying on what is inside the box there would be less temptation to keep replacing it as the capabilities it accesses could be upgraded without the limitations imposed by the box. It could be our window into both home and work computing as the device itself would be controlling remote devices rather than computing locally. There would be no data on this device, so if we lost it our data would remain secure. Because the device is relatively simple, effectively a kind of thin client, if it did wear out, break or get lost, the cost implications would be low, both fiscally and environmentally. All we would need when we reach the office is a bigger screen and a full keyboard and mouse to connect to this device and we would be accessing straight through to the full corporate desktop experience. This is far from science fiction, solutions are on the market today which are a hair’s breath away, such as the iPad (for which read Android or any number of other end-points) combined with a decent hosted Virtual desktop service.
If you want to go “green”, minimise the proliferation of end point devices and move to virtual desktops (and keep running your old car instead of buying a new one).