Who is Taylor Janasik? Taylor is the creator of a Facebook group that attracted more than 75,000 members within two days of starting operation on December 8th, which makes her one heck of a young social media expert. The group achieved its initial goal of a having a snow day on December 9th (at least in upstate New York) and is now preparing more ongoing support for snow days. Taylor writes, "I think I might make this an official group for all the days people think they're gonna have a snow day. I'll just change the date in the title whenever a new date comes up." I'm pretty sure the group is still accepting members. Just log into Facebook and search the group by its official name "Join if you want a SNOW DAY for 12/10/09." And just like that "Join if you want a SNOW DAY for 12/10/09" went viral.
As a nation, how much energy and attention do we lavish on frivolities such as "Join if you want a SNOW DAY for 12/10/09, Tiger Woods, or World of Warcraft?" Julius Neudorfer's recent blog on CTOEdge reminded me that I've been wrestling for this question for some time. Julius writes, "While the Copenhagen Summit deals with the large-scale issues of climate change, carbon footprint and global warming, I find it interesting that Gartner’s 28th Annual Data Center Conference is being held in Las Vegas this week, a city that exemplifies the meaning of the word 'excess.' Setting aside any moral issues ('What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas'), it is a city that is operated on almost limitless, low-cost power."
Julius is correct when he writes that data centers have begun to tax our energy infrastructure. In fact, data center developers have placed adequate electrical capacity, reliability, and power quality at the top of their site location lists for some time now, which is an implicit acknowledgement that larger data center facilities can upset the local power ecology. My friend Dave Ohara also identified water supply as an increasingly important consideration in siting a data center. And now, AT&T Mobility president and CEO Ralph de la Vega suggested that the carrier may adopt usage-based pricing to limit heavy bandwidth use. De la Vega said the company wants to give the 3% of smartphone (read iPhone) users that account for 40% of data traffic an "incentive" to change their habits involving extensive video and audio streaming. The announcement suggests that the unlimited usage plans offered by cellular providers has created an artificial shortage of bandwidth. Many experts think the move would be a fatal mistake considering the number of iPhone users on the AT&T network.
In short, the demand created for on-line services at current prices is leading to shortages of electricity (and probably transmission), water, and bandwidth. New pricing signals (in the form floated by AT&T, higher subscriber fees, or both) could address these shortages, but only by raising the cost of computing. High computing costs for some might mean higher computing costs for all and reduced opportunity for aspiring social media experts, and others.
That said, how likely is is that the cost of computing will increase? While cap and trade, taxes, and higher energy costs put some external upward pressure on prices, forces such as Moore's Law, consumer demand, and increased efficiency and density suggest that computing will not only continue to become more available but also cheaper.
In short, while many Facebook groups do not fit any definition of useful work, we lack any real way of separating what's useful from what's not. Or what's Green from what's not.
Of course, Las Vegas and our fascination with Tiger Woods proves that this problem extends beyond rationalizing how we use our data centers.