Global warming means hot times for technology

It is now official, global warming is real. When I write “official” I don’t mean that scientists have finally agreed. By official I mean President George W. Bush has finally, and one might note grudgingly, admitted that global warming is fact.

The grudgingly part is because for a long time the president would not admit to the evidence and now doesn’t want to engage in any analysis of why global warming has happened, even though scientific data points squarely to human activities. The president’s take: “…we need to set aside whether or not greenhouse gases have been caused by mankind or because of natural effects and focus on the technologies that will enable us to live better lives and at the same time protect the environment.”

The idea that the problem can be ameliorated (it can’t be fixed) without understanding the causes is as naive as trying to cure a chest pain but not checking to see if the patient is having a heart attack.

So what are the causes of global warming? The top culprit is the burning of fossil fuels, which increases the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.

What are we doing about the problem? Katherine Ellison, writing in The New York Times on May 20, commented: “Scientists have long been warning that the world must cut back on greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70 per cent, as soon as possible, if we’re to have a fighting chance of stabilizing the climate. Yet even with full participation by the United States, the controversial Kyoto Protocol — the only global plan in the works — would hardly begin to do that. Its goal is to reduce emissions by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. And so far, the best plan offered by American politicians — the Climate Stewardship Act sponsored by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman — has an even more modest goal: It aims to cut emissions in the United States merely to 2000 levels by 2010. And the Senate has rejected it twice.”

But this state of affairs can’t last and, now that the president is on board, we can expect that over the next few years the way we run our businesses will have to change.

To reduce emissions we have to burn less fuel, which requires that we reduce our consumption. When it comes to electrical power we will have to use less, which in turn will probably require higher electricity prices to enforce reductions. The average national price of electricity in the U.S. in February was 8.42 cents per kilowatt hour.

What will it mean to your enterprise if the price becomes 16 cents or even 32 cents?

How will that influence changes in your data centre?

Server consolidation using virtual machine technology looks like a good bet, as you can move to more efficient hardware platforms. You need to examine your system’s life-cycle management strategy and make some reasonable assumptions about how power costs will rise and what your replacement and upgrade options will be.

Could this be a profound reason for businesses to migrate to Linux? Linux servers typically provide equivalent services to Windows servers at a lower processor utilization, which means that a single physical server running Linux can consolidate more server instances than the same hardware running Windows. What if you consolidated five servers instead of four? That could save 20 per cent on your energy costs!

But there will be other issues to worry about. Over the past six years the number of major hurricanes has more than doubled, and this year we’re seeing twice as many tornadoes compared with the 10-year and 30-year averages. Add to that ocean levels possibly rising 10 inches by 2050 and disaster preparedness takes on a new dimension.

Still doubt global warming is real? If the president finally accepts it, then maybe it’s time to start planning what you’re going to do, because the consequences are starting to become apparent and can only get worse.


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