What’s the difference between a boat and a ship?

“Well, a boat is what you get on when the ship is sinking.”

That's according to the Belmont, New Hampshire Fire Chief. Sure, he was being funny about it, but he's not wrong — have you ever heard of someone being rescued on a life ship? My guess is no. But, the real difference is the size. Ships are huge boats with multiple engines or sails, and they're mostly used for transportation. Think cruise and cargo ships.  

Now, picture the biggest lake you've ever seen. But, if you've never been to the Great Lakes, then picture the biggest lake you've ever seen times 10. Let's call that the Data Lake. I know the term "data lake" is just that — a term. But, it's one we're all familiar with, and it also makes for a good analogy.

The Data Lake was discovered with the internet back in the '80s. In the beginning, very few boats traversed the waters to transport data from one port to another. In fact, only military and government boats were allowed to cross it. But, in 1993, the docks were opened to the public, and, it turns out, a lot of people had boat loads of information to share.

Ports started backing up and people started to get angry — they wanted more data, and they wanted it faster. Small, slow boats were just abandoned, left to sink at the bottom of lake, while the captains searched for newer, bigger, faster boats.


Today, the Data Lake looks nothing like the picture you had in your mind a few minutes ago. There's no water left to navigate because the lake is oversaturated with ships. The obvious solution is to remove some of them from the water. But no one wants to do that, so the captains are finding creative ways to work around it. Some of them are looking into hybrid submarines, thinking that if they can get partially below the water, they can snake around the other traffic. Others think they can create waves big enough to go airborne and make it through. But, most of them are just trying to go as fast as they can, which ultimately ends in a crash.

The Data Lake will be a sunken data ship graveyard soon if we don't do something about it. Technology is supposed to make the world a better place, not end it. Instead of focusing all of our energy on finding ways to get around the sustainability issue with more efficient cooling and IT equipment, let's focus on the issue: It's us. As an industry — and this goes for basically every industry — we are enabling society to be wasteful. Instead of encouraging end users to help in the fight against climate change, we're simply giving them more options for generating/consuming data.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So, I challenge you to question yourself. Look through your phone. How many apps do you have? How many of those do you use rarely or never? How many pictures do you have? How of those are actually garbage pictures that you're keeping just because you can? How many working cellphones do you have that you no longer use but haven't recycled? And the same question goes for power cords and other cables. What do you have stored to the cloud and when is the last time you reviewed it to delete objects you no longer need?

The list goes on. But, the real question is: Are you ready to admit you have a problem, so we can help our planet recover?