The Organic Growers School is structured in a way that many small organizations are these days: we all work from home and rely on internet and conference calls for the kind of connectivity created by being in adjacent cubicles. According to a study cited in this article in the Atlantic, working from home increases productivity by 22%, and if trends are anything to go by, more and more employers are allowing their people to pull on a business-casual sweater over their jammies in the morning and telecommunte.
This system has its inherent challenges to be certain. In particular, we’re finding at OGS that Staff Person 1 needs Document A, but Document A exists only on Staff Person 2’s laptop. So Person 1 has to take time to call Person 2 to get this document, and that only works if Person 2 is in front of her computer and not in meetings or in the field all day. Or worse, Person 2 had that document on a flash drive which Person 2’s toddler thought was a computer seed, so he planted it in the front yard and watered it really well and is now eagerly awaiting the first curly shoots of a computer tree.
Stranger things happen when you work from home…
The solution, techies around the world rejoiced, was Cloud Storage. “But clouds store only water!” you protest. Not anymore, baby. Cloud Storage is model of networked data storage where third parties host your files in large data centers, like the one pictured to the right, that customers can then access online. It’s the same idea as an office that has a server that all employees can then access and use to store information they want shared except cloud storage often utilizes many servers in many different locations. But thanks to that wireless router blinking on my shelf, I can access data stored on a server in downtown or Hoboken or Hong Kong with a couple clicks.
This system is pretty darn convenient for folks in workplaces like OGS. It doesn’t cost much to buy yourself a terabyte of storage in the sky and then have all your employees dump their documents and images in one place.
CLOUD STORAGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
The biggest point in cloud storage’s sustainable favor is that it cuts down on physical materials. Paper for instance. Consider, also, the costs for businesses running their own servers, which gobble up electricity.
According to this article on earthtechling. com,
What’s not to love, right?
You know that whirring sound your computer makes sometimes? That’s the fan kicking on to cool your hard drive. A server is a lot like your computer, just without a screen or keyboard. Now, picture, if you will, the servers for Facebook, with it’s nearly one billion users, that run all day, every day. Cooling this equipment require industrial cooling systems that burn their own share of electricity.
Cooling pulls off the grid, for sure, but remember that this is on top of the massive electricity consumption required just to run the data center. According to the New York Times,
The actual thinking and crunching that serves do doesn’t consume that much power; however, the systems in place to keep these servers from crashing–which would mean the end of a cloud storage business–accounts for about 90% of their overall consumption. Also, many of these storage banks utilize diesel-powered generators that kick on in the event of a power outage and emit fumes like any other engine. “The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show.”
A Gartner study suggests that the IT industry produces as much greenhouse gas as the aviation industry, about 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
So what is a small, environmentally-minded non-profit to do? Well, right now, we’re doing our research. Did you know that facebook is building a server farm in Sweden, just outside of the arctic circle? Why Sweden, you ask? Power in Sweden is much more abundant thanks to their many hydroelectric dams and cooling machines is as simple as opening the front door. Google, too, is actively investing in renewable energy: “Google recently entered into two 20-year power purchase agreements for more than 100 megawatts from a wind energy developer located in Iowa and Oklahoma, states where the company operates large data centers.” Google also claims to have decreased the energy consumption of their server farms by 50% by using cooling towers that evaporate heat from the equipment and recirculate cooled water back into the facility.
We already use Google services in other areas of our business, so it’s looking like we’ll be going with Google for cloud storage–they are taking strides to cut their energy consumption, invest in renewables, and work more efficiently. This, however, is definitely but a single voice in a much larger dialogue. It seems like the most powerful thing we can do, as customers, is play the role of the conscientious consumer and vote with our business. But like everyone else, we must vote wisely.
Jenn Cloke, originally from Atlanta, has lived in Western North Carolina for since 2006 and wears her Appalachian mantle proudly. Jenn was the Communications Coordinator for Organic Growers School from 2012 to 2014. She and her family run a small farm at the foot of Cold Mountain.