Exporting your problems

Have you ever noticed how we try to solve one problem, but end up creating new problems?  Because of the industrialization and accompanying population growth in the west, we chopped down most of our trees.  This in turn created a shortage of lumber.  So the government in lots of countries installed a ban on chopping down more trees.  But they did not provide any alternatives to lumber.  People needed (and still need) wood of all sorts and sizes to do stuff.  Provide heating (long ago), build houses (a little less long ago), build furniture (we still do that), etc…  So what happened?  Since chopping down trees was now illegal, we started buying the trees from abroad.  And for every tree that we imported, a tree in another country was chopped down.  Which means the deforestation got exported.  So that’s how you end up “exporting” your problems.

We here in the west have gotten pretty good at it.  Most of the deforestation in the 3rd world countries is driven by demand for wood or other products in rich countries.  We want to eat more beef, so we need land to grow the cows that provide the meat.  Over here, land is scarce, but in Brazil it’s not.  Just chop down a few acres of rainforest and tada!   You have more land to grow cows.  Unfortunately, the land is not very fertile and after a few years you need to chop (or burn) down more forest.Or recycling.  The government forces companies to recycle electronics.  But that’s of course way too expensive over here.  So the solution is easy: put all the broken and obsolete electronics devices in containers and move them to poorer countries.  There the people will recycle them for a lot less money.  And since the environmental and social legislation is a lot less strict over there, we can save even more money on social welfare and safety equipment!  Again, exporting our problems.

But we’re also doing it on a much smaller scale.  Lots of companies want to attain a “greener” image.  And one of the ways to do that is to reduce power usage.  Now everybody has some sort of private server park where all their applications run and their data is stored.  And that uses lots of power, so it would be great if that could be reduced.  Or even eliminated!  That’s where cloud providers come in: they allow you to migrate your applications (or entire servers) to their data-centers.  The result is that you don’t have to pay a big electricity bill and in turn pay some service fee to Amazon, Google or any of the other providers.  Great, isn’t it?  Yes, but you still haven’t reduced your actual power usage!  A server in the cloud still uses power.  Yes, maybe there is a slight reduction because of size optimizations, and they use more modern servers that use a little less power.  But we don’t really know how big a difference it makes.
It would be great if we would have a better way of measuring things like that. 

One positive effect of moving to the cloud is that cloud providers benefit from optimizing their power consumption, so even though we still export our problem, the global result may be a little less negative.

Author Wout Neirynck is owner of Debreuck Neirynck and an experienced agile developer with strong focus on TDD  

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