If you want to change the world, it helps if you can build a business case. Bill St. Arnaud last week blogged about how Internet-connected servers and storage might represent an excellent business case for wind and solar power.
St. Arnaud is senior director of advanced networks for CANARIE Inc., Canada's advanced Internet development organization. He wrote:
"One of the challenges of delivering renewable energy such as wind power or solar systems is the high cost of the electrical transmission lines to carry the power to where it is needed. Unfortunately ideal solar and wind power sites are rarely located near major urban centers. Most renewable energy systems produce relatively small amounts of power compared to a coal and nuclear power plants, and as consequence the cost of the electrical transmission line given the distances to reach renewable energy sites can completely undermine the business case for deploying a renewable energy system in the first place."
The answer, he says, is to move servers, storage, and other facilities to the renewable energy sites themselves. In other words, you build your wind farm in the middle of nowhere, and you put your servers and storage out there, too. That way, you don't need the expensive power lines; the wind farm's sole purpose is to power the computers that are in the same location.
All you really need are less expensive fiber-optic lines to connect those computers with the Internet. St. Arnaud points out that high-speed optical networks allow your facilities to be located just about anywhere, so the remote location of the wind farm is not an issue.
He acknowledges that one downside of the approach is that if the wind dies down, your servers are out of luck, and out of commission. However, the technology to rapidly balance traffic among different servers in different locations is well established, so if the wind/server farm goes down, traffic can be routed to other computers in a different location.
As St. Arnaud writes:
"We have the technology at hand to build 'follow the wind' or 'follow the sun' computing grids using optical networks to ensure extreme high reliability information systems and computing grids regardless of whether or not components of the underlying physical computational network and/or storage facilities are available and on line."
It's an intriguing idea. But right now, it's just that - an idea.