Thursday, August 27, 2009

What are Smart Systems, briefly?

Smart systems are the monitors, feedback loops, automated processes, and networks that enable the system to respond effectively in real time to changing conditions and events. The responses may be guided by people using dashboards, or by the systems themselves, applying complex analytical logic and input from a vast array of sources. The network for a geographically distributed system is usually the Internet. It could also be a wireless cellular network, or a wireless or wired local network. Electric companies would like to see their Smart Grids used to link smart systems together.

Wikipedia defines a smart system as a device, but it's really the whole-- system.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Smart Grid to dwarf the Internet"- Is Cisco Exec Kidding?

Cisco predicts Smart Grid to dwarf the Internet. June 25, 2009 by Chris Morsella in Green Economy Post's Smart Grid.

Well, this turned out to be more of a ranting commentary than a summary of the article that inspired the rant. So, since I call this blog a Digest, here's the summary:
  • Basically, the article is summarized in its subtitle, "The Keystone of the Smart Grid is Real-Time Information and Making Good Use of It".

  • The author reports that Marie Hattar, vice president of marketing in Cisco’s Network Systems Solutions group, told Martin LaMonica, Senior Writer at Cnet, that “Our expectation is that this network (the Smart Grid) will be 100 or 1,000 times larger than the Internet."

  • Big Tech firms like Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Cisco are launching and buying start-ups to create and run the Smart Grid. This market is filled with things familiar to IT people, such as "end-to-end communications networking, data gathering, (and) mining and decision making."
My bone to pick is with the direction most of the Smart Grid money seems to be going. I'm hoping Hattar of Cisco's prediction is as off-target as that of her boss CEO John Chambers, who foresaw that "e-Learning will make email look like a rounding error." I do e-Learning, and it has indeed done well, and saves increasing millions of tons of carbon due to reduced training-related travel. But it's e-learning that has remained the rounding error compared to e-mail, not vice-versa.

If we're lucky, the smart-grid-that-rules-all-things prediction won't pan out, either.

Is it a sacrilege for an environmentalist and clean energy advocate to say such a thing?
Not if we look at the trends. Today, increasing efficiency usually means creating things closer to where they are used. This includes electricity. And, localized production of electricity is cheaper than ever, and getting cheaper. By contrast, the cost of moving large amounts of electricity long distances is going to go up, not down. That's because of the major infrastructure overhaul that it will take to make it possible.

The Department of Energy seems to be bucking this trend by supporting the big utilities in their hundred-plus year campaign to make sure most of our electricity is shipped in from somewhere far away. Electricity is like any commodity, in that shipping a long distance eats up a lot of the value it started out with. But with electricity, it shows up at the end of the pipe: what comes out is a lot less than what went in.

Producing electricity in mega-quantities may be a lot less expensive per megawatt than producing it, say on a county, municipality, or even neighborhood level. But, once you add up the costs of transportation, infrastructure, maintenance, and environmental degradation, it looks like not such a good bargain.

As Morsella points out, the utilities have kept power flowing to us, reliably and admirably, for longer than any of us have been alive. But, how progressive have they been? We can thank for that reliability the generations of in-the-box thinking of conservative managers, to whom "out of the box" would be tantamount to "out of control." This reliability has come at the cost of stodgy (not stogie, they're passe', even in utility boardrooms) policies and procedures. Continuing to follow this path, however much we improve it with real-time information dashboards and feedback mechanisms, exposes us increasingly to big-project cost overruns, systems that become obsolete long before they've been paid off, or even completed, and the security risks inherent in enormous, complex systems that nobody understands, but everybody depends on.

Remember "Too Big To Fail"? That was just earlier this year, folks, and it's not limited to financial institutions. There, too, managers jumped too fast from a slow-moving freight train onto a lightning-fast Acela without knowing where it was going, or how to work the controls when it veered onto a dead-end siding that ended in a neighborhood densely populated with policyholders, shareholders, and taxpayers. The result has not been pretty.

Big systems, old thinking. The Obama DOE still seems populated by the old, centralized command-and-control thinking of the big utilities. They want to spend many, many billions to upgrade the old electric highway, and create centralized, large-scale solutions such as hundred-acre solar arrays and hundred-turbine wind farms. A big part of that investment should go to improving energy efficiency, and supporting thousands of local power-generation initiatives. Energy sources that are interdependent— neither independent, nor dependent— will be most able to withstand disasters both natural and unnatural, such as terroristic threats. For more on that, see

We have an effective model of interdependent cooperation. Fortunately, most of the Smart Grid solutions being developed will adapt easily to more localized implementations, maybe even making them more feasible. One place where a million little safeguards interface with a large centralized system is in the networked personal computer. Security is built into the software, at all the end points and at every point in between. It's not perfect, but it draws on the dedication and ingenuity of tens of thousands of dedicated volunteers to quidkly identify and neutralize most security threats, keeping most from getting out of hand.

The smart grid can replicate that model, but it will need to be considerably more robust. At the sign of a major threat, it must be able to break itself into thousands of independent sub-systems, running smoothly on their own until the threat passes. On the internet, instant contact with anywhere is vital. We don't need that level of connectivity for our electricity, we just need to get it from somewhere.

What's this mean to people in IT?
It was a painful adjustment for IT folks when the era of centralized mainframe control ended, and decentralized minicomputing took off. But, we adjusted. And we adjusted again, however painfully, to the teeming onslaught of personal computers, and again when those PCs united into the mighty Vox Populi Commercia of the World Wide Web. We're adjusting again to new business realities; indeed, many of us are among the rabble storming the Bastille of Business As Usual. So we're no strangers to change and increasing decentralization. In fact, many of us are leading it. So who's best qualified to usher in the dawn of the Smart Grid? The utilities, or us?

Green IT Back on the Rise? from Biz-Tech 3.0

Green IT Back on the Rise?
Aug 19, 2009, in Biz-Tech 3.0, in CIO Insight Blogs.
Biz-Tech 3.0 blogger Brian Watson has been tracking Green IT for much of its on-again, off again way. He now feels it's reaching critical mass to become part of the landscape, something every self-respecting CIO has to at least be pretending to do something about. Of course, if they really know about it, they're already working with the CFO to make it real throughout not just their enterprise, but their supply chain.

The last person a CIO wants to hear about Green IT from is the CFO. (That line's from me, not from the article.) For the past three years, most green initiatives were extensions of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) campaigns, driven by Directors and CEOs. Now, the CFO grapevine is buzzing about the cost savings and efficiency gains of Green IT. CFOs are jumping onto that shiny new, solar-powered bandwagon. And that means Green IT is not just on the rise, it's here to stay.

My observation: How far can this CIO interest go, when 70% of CIOs don't pay their own electric bills? As much as they may want to reduce energy consumption, untill it's in their measurable objectives, how much can they really do?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

eWeek links on Green IT and Green Computing

eWeek has a section for Green IT and Green Computing. Here are the links, with my brief review and commentary for each. These aren't comprehensive, they're just the ones that jumped out at me.

The Business Case for Sustainable IT . Solution providers can make a compelling case for green IT to small and midsized businesses. Referencing Forrester's Christopher Mines' 2008 study, Going Green goes hand in hand with increasing efficiency and effectiveness of both the IT function and the enterprise as a whole. Generally, activities that are environmentally unfriendly are often also ineffective or obsolete.

Are Solution Providers, VARs and IT Consultants Ready for Environmental Certific
A Gartner study points out that most solution providers can claim only the energy efficiency of the products and solutions they sell. Within a few years, Green IT certification standards will expand to include the environmental friendliness of full supply chain and lifecycle management and business practices, as well as stringent energy reductions.

From IBM:
This December 2008 white paper frames Green IT within the context of business process transformation, summarizes some IBM initiatives, and hints at ways IBM can help their customers go green. As author Ellen Johnson concludes, "Green is the new Black."

From eWeek:
IBM, CalTech Use DNA for Future Microchips
What's the connection? Processors today use an immense amount of energy. And, although they're made in spotless "clean rooms", making them is a dirty, toxic business. This article describes a way to work with nature to make processors immensely smaller and more powerful, yet be cleaner to create and operate.

5 Steps to Green IT

Oh, this is scary. Although it doesn't come out and list the 5 steps, it does bring a lot of attention to e-waste and energy consumption. Mountains of computers and cell phones still go into our municipal solid waste stream, and they're just about the most toxic stuff in there. To quote the article: "More than 1,000 chemicals used during electronics production, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and other illnesses."

Top 10 Resources for Green IT
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Lists resources for the Small Business Owner. These are: