As someone who tracks lots of new and exciting technologies, one of the more interesting areas is in green technologies. On a regular basis I receive studies, releases and sometimes even demos of new products, techniques and technologies that will reduce power usage, cut down on waste and improve the efficiency of computing resources.
And it's all really great stuff. Fuel cell technologies that can run everything from a cell phone to an entire server room. Displays that work well using just a trickle of electricity. New power sources that make it possible to take technology to the most remote areas.
Yep, this is all really exciting stuff. I just can't wait until all of these, and many other advancements, find their way into the technologies that I use, and that many businesses use, on a daily basis.
But unfortunately waiting is exactly what I and every one else is doing. In fact some of these "new" green technologies aren't even all that new. Some have been in the works for many years now but have somehow still not made their way into the most recent computing systems. Sure new technologies can be unpredictable and no advancement is preferable to not ready for prime time implementations, especially in some of the possible uses of fuel cells.
But there has to be some kind of happy medium between a no holds barred risky rush to deploy new technologies and our current glacial pace of green technology advancements. Look behind the many breathless pronouncements of "green" computers and other technologies that you see today and what you often find is a system that is at best just a few percentage points more efficient than systems from a few years ago.
So what's going on here? Are green technologies too difficult or impractical for technology vendors to deploy today? Some would probably say yes but there is evidence to the contrary.
Look at the One Laptop Per Child project's XO laptop. Here's a system that uses a tiny fraction of the power that so called "green" laptops from commercial vendors use. To a small degree this is due to the lessened functionality of the XO, but most of the power-saving gains in the XO come from smart design decisions and innovative new technologies, many of which would be easy for commercial laptops to use themselves.
No I think the main reason we aren't seeing real green innovation on the technology products we buy is due to good old corporate inertia and conservatism. Despite the claims of their marketing departments, most established technology vendors hate to do anything too new.
Without some outside force to push them, most companies will sit back and keep on doing what they've always done with only small and non-disruptive improvements introduced on occasion. The only things that force companies to get off their behinds and really innovate is customer demand, or even more powerfully, commercial success by an adventurous competitor that wasn't afraid to bet on new technology.
The history of technology is full of examples of this kind of dynamic, from the early days of personal computing to the recent refusal of most major automotive firms to invest in efficient cars until Toyota and Honda showed that hybrids could be successful.
So for those of us still hoping to use new green technologies in our businesses, we'll have to keep up the pressure on the vendors and take advantage of those adventurous companies that actually offer real green advancements.
And then maybe we can build truly green computing infrastructures, and get out of the state of just trying to make our current infrastructure a little less wasteful.