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How green is your cloud?: The energy we consume by staying connected

By Shane Huntington

Telecommunications expert Dr Kerry Hinton explains how the growth in consumer and business cloud computing, and the mobile and wireless technologies that support it, is driving massive increases in power consumption.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
I’m Dr Shane Huntington. Thanks for joining us. Not many of us give a lot of thought to the energy needed to power our digitally connected lives. While some of us are vigilant about turning off our computers and other electronic devices when they're not in use, our increasing need to stay online, to stay connected and available, means we're less and less likely to power down, and that has implications for power generation, energy policy and the environment. The enormous growth in our use of Cloud services, as well as our use of mobile and wireless technologies to access these services any time anywhere translates into surprisingly huge levels of energy consumption. While researchers are working to steer power generation and consumption technologies along greener paths, what's the real impact of the exploding use of Cloud computing, especially over power-hungry mobile and wireless platforms? Today on Up Close, we investigate these questions with telecommunications expert, Dr Kerry Hinton. Dr Hinton is Deputy Director and Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Energy Efficient Telecommunications in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Melbourne. Welcome to Up Close, Kerry.

KERRY HINTON
Thank you.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Kerry, let's start with the term Cloud computing itself; what do we mean by this?

KERRY HINTON
Well, there's a bit of a history lesson in this I guess. In fact, it ends up that us old people have dealt with Cloud computing in the past. Those of us who remember the days when we were at university dealing with decks of cards where we kind of keyed away on an old keyboard and then handed them to the central computing department, that actually was a form of primitive Cloud computing, because the idea is that you have a centralised computing facility and that's shared amongst many, many people. Now, of course, in the intervening years between then and today, personal computers came along in the late '80s and they really took off. So what happened was the concept of localised strong and powerful computing machines meant that everybody bought a PC. More recently, it's been realised that you can actually get significant benefits - economic and environmental benefits, by bringing that resource back into a centralised area, and what you do is that you provide the service to many, many people using this centralised area. Now, these big data centres which provide these services can be made very energy efficient. So the idea behind Cloud computing is the following; in the '90s, early 2000s you might have done a whole lot of stuff on your desktop PC. Instead of doing that, what you do is you relocate that resource into a centralised data centre. Then, you can basically rent that resource as you need it, rather than having to buy a computer and all the resources that go with it. You'll just basically get a simple desktop, which is a very low power machine and not very intelligent - just does the basics. You can then pay, on a kind of monthly basis, for the resources you need.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Now, you're talking there about individuals to some degree, but originally Cloud computing was when you suggest the original card computing scenario - that's one where programming was done via cards, and people submitted them into computing centres, of which there were few, but shortly after that, as we moved away from that, it was done for business essentially, wasn't it - not individuals.

KERRY HINTON
Yeah, certainly was. In fact the early business cases that promoted Cloud computing were focussed on enterprises, and the idea behind that was that enterprises during the '80s and '90s when personal computers really took off, they would buy thousands of machines. Then they started networking them, and when they did that, they needed to have the service that dealt with that network, and they'd have something in the corner of the room, or perhaps they'd have a server room in the corner of the building. These were services and systems that were deployed in enterprises. Home computers were just little machines that sat alone. This is before the internet came along. These big enterprise-wide systems proliferated, and Cloud computing has stepped in to basically rationalise that and provide a far more economically viable approach to Cloud computing, which makes it available to smaller business, as compared to just really big companies.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Tell us, what is involved for the business itself? I mean, today you can outsource a lot of things using Cloud computing. So what exactly is involved in terms of the benefits for a particular business, whether it be small or large?

KERRY HINTON
Well, let's take a concrete example; some years ago, if a company wanted to have a standard work processor, what they would do is they'd purchase a commercial word processor. They would install it on every machine, and everybody would have a machine. So, when they typed up their document, say 30 per cent of the staff were typing up a document. Well, then you still have to provide 100 per cent of the staff with a word processor. Under the Cloud scenario, what happens is that you don't do that - you basically put the word processor in a centralised data centre, and then when 30 per cent of the staff need a word processor, they get a word processor, but the other 70 per cent - they don't need it, so they don't get it. So the company then finds that it can rationalise its purchase of resources by doing that kind of thing; you share the resources across many people. Now, to add to that, a lot of these data centres actually don't just service one company - they'll service many companies. So they can amortise the cost of the data centre across lots and lots of users, and so the price comes down even further. So you find now that companies will outsource a whole range of IT facilities, because they can use that model to cut the cost.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
We're talking there about things like purchasing of software and the like, and I can understand processing power would also be a key and significant part of that - small business in particular, or even large business would not want to pay for super-computing facilities unless they absolutely had to have them in-house, but what about energy consumption? Because in the example you spoke about there, where you may have a business with 10 computers, but only three of them are using word processors at a given time, all 10 of them are still turned on, and now three of them are additionally accessing an offsite facility, which has to be energised as well. What's happening in terms of the energy interplay?

KERRY HINTON
Yes. Now, the big business case, and also I should say that in terms of sustainability, Enterprise Cloud makes good sense. So what would happen is that people would typically find that in a company that's had a whole group of staff who use desktop PCs, these machines were designed to be the full blown high powered machine. So they'd be a couple of watts per machine. When you move across to the cloud, you realise that you don't need all that processing power on each desktop. So what you do is you replace the old machine with a new low powered machine, down to just 10s of watts, and a machine that is designed purely just to talk to the cloud data centre. So these machines are much more energy efficient, and what's more, they're typically designed so that if no-one's using them after about five or 10 minutes, they basically go into a sleep mode. So you don't have these kind of 10 machines going flat chat all day. You just have the machines you need activated and doing stuff. The rest are in a sleep mode. Okay, so that's the machines that the staff use. Now, let's talk about the networking facilities and stuff like that. Now, in the past companies would buy a whole lot of networking gear and put it in the corner of the room. Typically the room was not designed to deal with that kind of equipment so you have to put in extra air conditioning - all this kind of stuff. You would typically find that the whole design of the network was not optimised for energy efficiency or cost, whereas now, under these cloud scenarios you find that you put the equipment into a highly specialised, very well designed and very energy efficient building. As I said before, you share it with many, many, many users, and the companies that provide this specialise in making sure you get the best value for price for it, in terms of energy consumption and economic benefit. So in the enterprise scenario I think there's no doubt that these cloud services provide significant and environmental boost to industry. It's a different question when it comes to consumer cloud. That's another issue all together.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
I suppose you've also got a scenario where these data centres in themselves can be put in the right places. I remember reading about the original Nicola Tesla, and he wanted all these telephony stuff based near Niagara Falls, for a very simple reason of it being easy to get clean energy. Are we following a similar set of principles with these data centres? It sounds like we should.

KERRY HINTON
Yes and no. It's a matter of the cost structure. There are some companies - some of the big ones too, are very environmentally conscious. And so they are actually looking at locating data centres in areas where the cost of cooling is low because in fact, the cost of cooling is a significant component of running a data centre. So you've got two factors; one is to get the power into the computers to do the processing, and the second one is to keep the computers cool so they don't overheat. There's the cost of cooling. Now, so if you can locate a data centre which is in a cool environment, say Tasmania would be example, or perhaps Norway - something like that - then you can minimise the cost of the air-conditioning. You wouldn't put one in the middle of a country like Australia. That wouldn't be such a good idea, because the air conditioning would be horrendous, but the other one too, is just where you get the electricity from. You would try and find a facility where it's near hydro or perhaps wind-power or something like that, rather than say a dirty coal power station. So, yes the current major cloud providers are always on top of that issue, and you typically find that they are always searching around for economic reasons as well as environmental reasons for finding the best place to locate these centres.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
As we take a step down now from the sort of larger companies using these services, to us as individuals, and I guess retail environments - very small sets of users, how does what we've been talking about translate down to the individuals in terms of energy use - use of the cloud? What does it look like, relative to what we've been discussing for companies?

KERRY HINTON
It ends up that the business case for enterprises has been pretty solid for, I say, about four or five years, like about 2009, 2010 it started to become clear that cloud was a good solution for an enterprise. The solution for the individual user is now becoming a business case pretty much today, and we've seen for example recent products such as Microsoft 365, iCloud, Google Docs and Google Drive and things like that. These services are what I actually what I would call consumer cloud - not big enterprises, but individuals. So you would buy a laptop which would have just a basic operating system on it, and then you would basically use the cloud to do your word processing, your spreadsheeting, your graphics design and products like that, but - how can I put it? The whole kind of environmental system is different. The eco-system for the enterprise cloud is typically a situation where you've got lots and lots of computers in a central building - that's the main office of course. They're typically connected by an ethernet cable. So there's very little wireless there, and then it's all sent off to some centralised data centre where they have the highly efficient system. You find that the consumer cloud is a bit different in that even though I may want to say do just a simple thing like word processing, if I use a consumer cloud product I'll typically connect via a wireless connection, as compared to wired. In fact, I guess most people would realise these days you buy a modern tablet - 2012sh - there is no ethernet plug. It's all wifi. If you're lucky you get a 3G machine - something like that. So once you start moving from this idea of having a wired connection to wireless connections, the whole game changes.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
How does this compare to a person doing the same work but locally on their laptop? Is the energy efficiency there for them to do the work on the cloud, or is it better for them to do just do it at home?

KERRY HINTON
It ends up that depending upon what you want to do, it could be better to do it on the laptop. So let's look at two examples; let's say that you want to do some word processing, and that you want to share the document. So you're one of a team. You're working on a report together. The current proposal in terms of interactive cloud services is that each person would access the document, the document would be held on a central data centre somewhere on the planet, and as someone logged in and started typing up into that document, it would automatically update the document - every key stroke. So whenever I press an A on my laptop, it then communicates that A to the data centre. Now, it ends up that if you measure the amount of data that's generated to send that A from your laptop to the data centre, is 1000 times the number of bits just to generate the A. So the letter A is basically eight bits inside a laptop. When you hit the A key, you basically generate eight bits of data. To get that from your laptop into the data centre there is an exchange between you and the data centre of 8000 bits. We've actually verified this doing measurements at the Centre of Energy Efficient Telecommunications, and it's pretty much uniform across all of the interactive cloud services. You generate basically 1000 times the information you produce. So, let's compare that with a laptop; as I said a moment ago, when you press the letter A on your laptop, you generate eight bits, and it stays in the laptop. Based on that, our advice would be the following; if you want to do a document, then you download it from your data centre. You then modify it on your laptop, but don't do it interactively. You have a local word processor, and then you upload it when you're finished so that your colleague can then get access to it. By doing that, you avoid that 1000 multiplier, because it ends up that when you transfer a document as a totality - not one that you're doing interactively - between you and the data centre is much more energy efficient. So any of these interactive cloud services, typically we would expect that it's better to basically do the work locally than to rely on the cloud. Now, this actually has another aspect to it, and that is in the more modern ideas behind cloud computing, when you buy your computer you buy a really dumb device. In fact it's just a terminal - nothing more. It can't do much apart from provide you with a web browser. We would suggest that that's not such a good idea. What you should do is put some intelligence inside the machine to do that local processing, to minimise that exchange between you and the data centre. So what you would do is that you wouldn't buy the dumbest machine you can buy just because it's cheap, because that's going to mean that the energy consumption's going to go up because of this 1000 multiplier. You would buy a machine which is fairly powerful so you can at least do all your kind of heavy processing on your laptop and then just communicate the results off into the cloud, and that's a far better way of going about doing this kind of processing.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
I'm Shane Huntington, and you're listening to Up Close. Today we're talking about cloud computing and its energy use with Dr Kerry Hinton, a telecommunications expert. Kerry, when we talk about the cloud and how it I guess originated, I know there was some issues by groups like Greenpeace and so forth, about the energy use for this service. You just mentioned the way we now use the cloud, especially with wireless. How does it stack up relative to other industries in terms of energy use? Is this something we should be quite concerned about?

KERRY HINTON
No, I would say at the moment the ICT industry is quite a small producer of greenhouse gases. It's about the same as the aviation industry, but the thing is that the rate of growth of the ICT and the internet is much greater, and as we move towards using things like wireless to connect to the internet, the growth in energy consumption is going to go up even beyond that. So, we have to start thinking about this now, because if the kind of trends that we've seen over the last say three or four years between say 2007 and 2012 - if they continue, we could be in a bit of strife in terms of continuing the experience the kind of user experiences we have today. By that, I mean it's not as though everything's going to stop working - what will happen is that we'll find that in the coming years, unless we address these issues to make these systems more sustainable, they will just slow down. So instead of being able to watch a video at home fairly quickly, you'll be sitting there for ages while the thing connects, or if you want to do a YouTube download to your mobile or your tablet, it will just take ages and ages. And the reason being, is that the network is either constrained by the amount of equipment that it needs to get the signal to you, or it will be constrained by the amount of energy consumed in getting the signal to you.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Let's talk a bit about the physics and engineering of the situation. There are two areas I'd like to look into; one is the use of, as you said before, a 3G or a 4G telephone company kind of interaction with your table or computer, and the second is your local home wireless network. Can you talk us through how these work and how the energy is used and why it's so high for these particular scenarios?

KERRY HINTON
Yeah. Let's go for the mobile phone - the 3G/4G. Now, what happens is that when you have a communication using your mobile phone, you could be standing say in a shopping centre, and the tower that you communicate with could be hundreds of metres away - in fact, even a bit further, depending upon where you stand. If you're out in the rural sector it could be even further. What happens is that the mobile tower doesn't know exactly where you are - it knows roughly where you are, but not exactly. So what it does is it sends out energy over an entire region in which you are standing somewhere. The reason it sends energy out could be significantly greater than just your little local spot. So there's a lot of wasted energy in this. It's sending out the signal to lots and lots of areas where obviously you aren't. Of course, there are people sharing that energy too. I should make that point, is that when there are lots and lots of people around, the energy efficiency of wireless 3G gets better. So going back to the point I was making is that the reason that 3G tends to be relatively energy inefficient is because it has to send out the signal to a very large area even though you're only at one spot. There's two ways of addressing that; one is you either reduce the size that the signal sent, and these are called small cells or nanocells and microcells. That's a technology which is being developed now. Or, you increase the number of people sharing that cell, which means that you do it in a city as compared to out in the country where there's only a couple of people. That's the general principal behind the energy consumption of wireless. Now, when we go to inside the house, it's a little bit different. Inside a house it is already a small cell, like your home wifi unit. It just sends out enough energy to cover your house - in some cases even less than your whole house. The difference there is that there's only one or two people using it, and you may recall I said a moment ago, you can improve the efficiency of wireless by having lots of people. Well, of course in a house there's always going to be only a couple of people. So the wireless system - the 3G system is inefficient because it's such large cells, even though there may be lots of people. The home unit is inefficient because even though it's a small cell, there's only a couple of people. To get to be energy efficient, what you need is a small cell on lots of people, and an example of that would be say a wifi internet cafe. You might have 30, 40, 50 users inside the one building and they're all sharing that energy. Likewise in an airport and places like that, and also in the centre of a city the telecommunications carriers normally deployed small cells. So they'll put a cell inside say each building down a street, and it covers a fairly small area, but of course the city's highly populated so it will be a good sharing of the signal there too.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
When you say inefficient and we're talking about the home use of something like a wireless transmitter, how does it compare to something like a two kilowatt air-conditioner unit running which is quite common in Australia during these months, or other things like a television or the laptop or computer itself?

KERRY HINTON
Well, a home wifi unit is about eight to 10 watts. Of course, as you said, the fridge is much greater - the air-conditioners even worse and so on. This is the pernicious aspect of this; what happens is that if you said to a person, look I want to look at the energy consumption of your internet connection over the last year, they wouldn't be able to find it in their electricity bill. It would just be buried amongst everything else. It's such a small component but the problem is that we have billions of people accessing the internet, and billions more wanting to. So this is a case of like endless small straws being added to the camel's back until it's going to give. It's a real challenge to make people aware of energy efficiency issues because it's almost irrelevant to them because it's down to the noise of their monthly electricity bill, but when you add it up across all the people that want to use it, especially if we start using mobile access all the time, it will add up across the planet to be quite a big number.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Kerry, when we look between various mobile towers and so forth that are available, are they all of similar efficiency or are there new versions coming out now that can sort of bridge this gap that we're speaking about, especially where there are small numbers of users?

KERRY HINTON
Yeah, energy efficiency of the mobile system is improving; ball park, over the last few years - about 15 to 18 per cent per annum, but there are certainly plans to significantly improve their energy efficiency. Today these towers are fairly large and they cover a large area. The idea behind microcells is to reduce the size. Now, the smaller area the power consumption goes down in a quadratic factor. In other words, you halve the area, you quarter the power. So by reducing the cells size, you can improve the energy efficiency because you reduce the power consumption, but you do pay the price; you've got to have more cells. For sure, you've got to build more cells. That can be, in most cases, done in an energy efficient way. Now, there are more techniques to make these systems even more energy efficient. So, for example, even if you reduce the cell size, you still have an area where you beam - you send out the beam, just blanket - basically you have a small cell where you just cover the whole thing with energy, and hope that the person's standing in the spot where they get the signal. These days, we're looking at techniques of using directed beams, and you can do this with an advanced design on the antenna. So what happens is that you don't even cover the whole cell - you basically know where the person is, because you know where their mobile phone is, and you basically direct a beam at that person, and as they walk around, the beam tracks them. In doing that, you're going to get significant improvements of energy efficiency. What we find these days is that these technologies are becoming increasingly available because the fact we have high powered computing that can be done in very small energy efficient chips, because to direct the beam at a specific person, you've got to do a lot of mathematical processing to work out how to design the beam to do that, but we're finding that these days we can do that in a very energy efficient way. So it's even better to use these kind of powerful micro-computers in the base station to direct these beams, than just blanket everywhere. So this technique is one of many which is being used to improve the energy efficiency of these cells.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Explain to me how you find out where the person is without actually sending the energy out to locate them in the first place.

KERRY HINTON
Ah, well what happens is that there are multiple channels in your communication; there's a channel which says, I want to make a phone call. Now, once that's kicked in you get handed off to another channel which has your specific conversation on it. So what occurs is that when you say, I want to make a phone call, the base station locates where you are. So in the next generation they'll add in some computing smarts inside the base station to say, righty ho that person is at a certain position - we will then offload them to the local transmitter to get to that position and we'll basically set up this special beam to make sure it's at their position. Now, once you start the conversation, there's a continual communication between you and the base station, or your mobile phone and the base station. So as you move, the tower just keeps tracking you. That's all there is to it. It just keeps shifting the design of the beam so that it follows you around. It gets a bit tricky if you're in an area where the beam can be blocked by a big tree or a big building- you walk behind it, but these days, the computing facilities working and the network is such that they'll pick that up and they'll make an adjustment; they might communicate by another tower, but it can all be done and you wouldn't even know that it's happening in the background. There's an international consortium called GreenTouch of which my group at the University of Melbourne is a member, and they are planning technologies which will improve the energy efficiency of mobile towers by over 1000-fold, and this uses a whole range of technologies, many of which will become commercially available over the next five or 10 years. The industry already recognises that wireless is relatively energy inefficient, and is focussing on that in a significant way to improve that. So I expect we'll see significant improvements over the coming years for wireless.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Yet, it would appear that everything that buy - every device we have, is becoming more wireless and less wired. As you said, even laptops these days do not have ethernet cable connection points on them. It seems though at least one part of the industry is heading in exactly the opposite direction.

KERRY HINTON
Yes, it's interesting. I tend to make the split not so much one part of the industry compared to another, but I think one could say social behaviours compared to what the industry's trying to do. The market for personal cloud services via wireless is driven by the absolute ease of access. You don't have to worry about cables, you don't have to go to a special place like you've got to find a local ethernet plug and all this stuff. So what we see is that the ease of access component of the industry is driving it towards wireless, but the industry fully recognises that wireless has low energy inefficiency compared to other technologies and that's why there's so much effort being put into it. They're trying to make sure that these services - access via wireless, are kept as sustainable as possible.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
You're listening to Up Close. Today we're speaking with Dr Kerry Hinton about cloud computing and its energy use. I'm Shane Huntington. Kerry, it seems as though at the moment we're kind of half way there in terms of cloud computing. I mean, you have people who utilise the cloud using their own personal computers, but they still do a vast quantity of the work on those computers themselves. Is part of the problem here that we've only taken half a step towards really doing this in the way you suggest?

KERRY HINTON
To an extent I guess that's correct in that we're evolving. The thing is that in telecommunications there's no such thing as a kind of a big bang. There are always legacy systems and old systems which you must make sure continue to be useful for their commercial life. So if a piece of equipment is designed and purchased with a lifetime of say 15 years or 10 years or even eight years these days, typically you find that the company that's using it is reluctant to rip it out. So it's not as though we can kind of start from scratch. So what's going to happen is that the improvement of energy efficiency of telecommunication services is going to be fairly low speed and quite complicated process because you've got to deal with all these legacy systems.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
You've been looking at some of the growth aspects of wireless computing and the use of the cloud. What sort of things are you finding there in terms of the energy use?

KERRY HINTON
We, at the Centre of Energy Efficient Telecommunications here, based at the University of Melbourne - we decided to have a look at some trends which people hadn't really brought together until we produced a document on this; we brought together the proliferation of cloud computing in the consumer space - so these are things like I said, Microsoft 360, Google Docs and things like that - along with the significant growth of wireless access. We said, okay then what will occur if the uptake of this part of the industry grows at the speed that people are predicting? And we found that there would be a significant increase in energy consumption by wireless access to clouds between now and about 2015. It's the same story as I said a moment ago; it's not as though any particular person's going to cause some dramatic increase, but all of us added together are going to become quite a significant drain. Now, if we don't get an understanding as to what's going on here, we actually will find, ultimately in the longer term - perhaps not 2015, but a bit later - that these services which we will increasingly find useful to us on a daily basis, no matter where we are, will become more difficult to get access to because the system will slowly grind to a halt. Energy and the deployment of infrastructure are two closely related issues on this, and unless we work out ways of addressing both, the system will slowly become less and less useful to us.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
When you look at the use of some of these services at the moment, they don't extend too far into the home, but it looks as though they will be doing that more and more. I mean, you even see these days, the scenarios of internet on the person's fridge and the like, which seems a bit further than we would need at the moment, but you can imagine it being everywhere in the house. What are the predictions in terms of what that will mean in terms of our use and our energy requirements?

KERRY HINTON
Ah well, the latest big thing in telecommunications of what's called the Internet of Things - now, the idea behind the Internet of Things is that in your daily life there will be all these pieces of equipment which you won't even know they're there, communicating with the internet and talking to data centres and cloud service, and what they'll be doing is they'll be picking up data about what goes on in your life and around it, and they'll be using that data to then enhance your life and make it easier. So there are lots of examples, and the internet fridge is one, but that's one's been around for quite a while. There are actually more kind of up to date versions - for example, there are plans so that people who may have a health issue and still want to get out and get around, we can put monitors on to them on their daily life, and these monitors can then communicate with a data centre, and if any kind of warning messages come up that there might be something imminent - perhaps their heart is not that good and there could be some warning signs - then what happens is that their monitors automatically pick that up, they notify the data centre, the alarm is sent out and remedial action will be taken before they fall over, I guess. Now, that's just one example. There are lots and lots. So I think most certainly in the coming years, what was going to happen is that the ability to process information and produce constructive results from that processing bit - forecasting a heart attack or helping someone find a car park - a whole lot of these options - that's going to grow. What will happen is that these things, which are going to be part of the Internet of Things, will get increasingly embedded in life that we have in our daily lives, and also in our houses. There are already lots of examples; companies make running shoes with things attached to them, Barcelona in Spain has an Internet of Things city - it actually has a whole range of smart monitors around the city to assist people to make life a bit easier. It's going to definitely come in the coming year.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
The Internet of Things seems as though you have a million things in the home or around the home, in the street, in the car - everywhere that needs to be powered to take advantage of this. Surely the energy expenditure here is borderline crazy.

KERRY HINTON
Yes, it's going to be a challenge. There's no doubt about that. There's a couple of factors to the Internet of Things; firstly, we expect 200 or more billion things - so it's expected there'll be more than a couple of things per person - there'll be multiple things per person. Now, these things will be little monitors which typically will connect to the internet via a wireless connection. Now, we've already said that wireless is one of the least energy efficient ways. So there's a challenge there, but in addition to that, the little thing needs to have energy for a certain lifetime, and at this point in time it appears that it will be battery powered. So there's the challenge of producing 200 billion batteries to power these things. People are looking at methods to try and scavenge energy from the environment to provide this thing with enough energy to make its radio connection when it needs to, but the energy drain during the talking phase - that is when the thing is actually connecting to the Internet of Things, is too great for it to use energy scavenging. So it appears that batteries will be essential. Now, this raises an issue beyond energy efficiency; it raises an issue of sustainability, because these batteries will be rechargeable batteries. So you've got to think about what is the environmental footprint of making more than 200 billion batteries, each of which may only last maybe five years. So there's a big issue there. Now, let's move onto the next part of the Internet of Things; what happens is that these things connect to the internet via what's called a gateway. Now, these gateways may be talking to 15, 20, 100 things at a time. So although the thing may be able to turn off between communication, the gateway stays on permanently, because it has no idea when the next thing is going to talk to it, so it can't afford to shut down. So they won't go into sleep mode. Now, we estimate at this point in time, these gateways will be about 10 watts. So if you have maybe 50 billion gateways, that's 1000 billion watts gone already. The energy consumption of these gateways is going to be a big issue. So that's the next question. Now, the final one which comes into this is that although one thing may not communicate very often, with 200 billion things there's going to be a lot of traffic in the network. So we expect to see a significant increase in the amount of traffic going through the network, as the Internet of Things grows, and that traffic's got to be dealt with, and as we said a little while ago, the bigger capacity, the more the energy consumption. So as we go from petabits to zettabits to yottabits, we are talking about significant increases in capacity and a lot more in power consumption. As a part of that, a lot of this traffic's going to go to data centres. There's going to be cloud facilities and other types of services run out of data centres. So we're going to be needing much, much bigger data centres - therefore, more energy. So the Internet of Things really does have a significant energy challenge awaiting us as we evolve towards it.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
We often think of ourselves as the denominator in these equations, but with this sort of world view that's not going to be the case at all; I'll be one person in the home, but I'll have 30 things. So I'm no longer the denominator - I'm the multiplier in a sense.

KERRY HINTON
Yeah, that's right. And in fact, one of the ideas behind the Internet of Things is that all these things are out there and you don't even know they exist. So for example, you'll go and buy say a shirt. Now, the thing will be stitched into the shirt and it will not even be a part of your thinking process - I'm going to buy a shirt with a thing in it. It will just be that's the way it is. As I said, in running shoes - there are even suggestion that we can swallow some things to do an internal inspection - stuff like that. So the idea that these things are woven into the fabric of society to the extent where you don't even know they're there. You may be the focus on trying to enhance the life - so we want to enhance your life, but you are not the focus of where the data goes. That all goes off to a data centre and is processed before it even comes back to you. There is significant amount of energy consumption in that whole process.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
The other thing we've seen massive growth in is data transfer rates. So as we've moved through various iterations of wireless in particular in our land based connections, we've found these data rates increasing. In the wireless case, how does that connect with energy use? Is it independent of data rate or is it closely linked to it?

KERRY HINTON
The higher the data rate, the higher the power consumption. That's all there is to it, and in most machines it's the linear increase, so if you double the data rate you kind of double the power consumption. In some cases in wireless networks it goes up even faster. It depends on the technology exactly what the relationship is, but yes, most certainly, as our demand for data grows, and our demand for high speed data grows, the power consumption will inevitably go up. It's something which is unavoidable. The challenge for us is to make sure that we minimise that increase.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Are there any approaches we can take that might help us with the design of these systems that will be more energy efficient in the future?

KERRY HINTON
Yeah. When it comes to designing the hearth of the internet - that's what we call the core network - what we want to do is to minimise the amount of electronics inside the core of the network. Today, the core of the internet is populated by these gigantic machines called routers. Now, these routers can consume a megawatt per machine, and in fact there are some routers around which have been designed to consume tens of megawatts. So no-one's ever built a fully equipped router because it just consumes too much energy. So, as I said, what we want to do is avoid sending traffic through these routers, and the way to do that is what's called a highly meshed network. Now, in a highly meshed network, what you do is you have an optical fibre connection between each edge node. In other words, where we're connecting to the internet, say in Melbourne, it's connected directly via a fibre to where we connect to the internet in London. You don't go through any routers in between. Now, today if we did that, we would go through about 10 or 12 routers, each one chewing up a certain amount of power, but if we can replace that with a direct fibre connection using these so-called mesh networks, then we get rid of all that electronics, and the energy efficiency of the internet significantly improves by getting rid of that electronics. It's a key design aspect of the next generation of the internet as we try and improve energy efficiency.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Those of us who have been in the Telco industry for years often dreamed of being able to put fibre to the home, but it was too costly. It's happening now. What does it mean in terms of energy use?

KERRY HINTON
Well, from the studies that we've done, it's quite clear that fibre to the home is the most energy efficient technology. Now, the reason for that is because other technologies typically need some electronics between the telephone exchange and the house. Fibre to the home has fibre all the way - it's passive. So there's no energy consumption between the telephone exchange and the house. The other technologies typically need some form of powered object. In a lot of cases it's the node, which is a piece of equipment deployed in a street. You have fibre to that node and then copper from the node to the house. Now, that requires electronics. The HFC - Hybrid fibre-coaxial system that is use for cable TV today - that requires a lot of energy. They've got amplifiers all the way down the line. As we've said, wireless requires significant amounts of energy. So as you start to choose a range of technologies which includes deployed electronics out in the network, more than fibre to the home does, then the energy consumption will go up. So I would expect that the energy consumption of [a] broadband network, which deployed a significant amount of electronics out in the field, will be definitely much greater than that which has fibre all the way.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Kerry, there is just an extraordinary number of devices coming out at the moment - many of the routers and wireless transmitters and so forth that we've spoken about, but they don't seem to be heading in the direction to make them environmentally friendly. Why is that?

KERRY HINTON
Well, this comes down to a question of sociology rather than engineering. The companies that build the centre of the internet - the heart of the internet - there's only a hand-full of those. To get into that game you've got to have billions of dollars to start, to get into that. So, those companies - they all know full well the challenges that lie ahead of us. So they spend a lot of effort improving the energy efficiency of their equipment. So those are the big routers and the big switches in the heart of the internet. As we go to the edge - to the customer and the consumer market where you buy one for your home and one for work and you've got a laptop and all this stuff, there is a myriad of producers. There's thousands of companies who buy and sell and re-trade in all this stuff. So it's difficult to get some kind of aggregate intention on how to improve energy efficiency, but also the challenge is basically just holding your position in the market. So of course, everybody's thinking of minimising the cost. Now, typically minimising the cost is not good for sustainability because you use kind of equipment and techniques which are not sustainable in the long term. So this is a real challenge. It comes down to the fact that when it gets to the consumer market and we've got billions of people buying stuff, all the independent decisions and very hard to coordinate between them. Now, there are in fact endeavours to try and do something about this; the European community actually has a code of conduct for broadband equipment which has just been renewed at the end of the 2013, and they are stipulating requirements on home broadband equipment to improve the energy efficiency over the coming years, and it appears that by and large, some form of regulated approach is really the only solution here because it's just too many independent decisions being made, to let it just go to the open market. The same thing goes for wireless base stations; within GreenTouch and also other groups who are looking at energy efficiency in wireless, they're suggesting that they will regulate sharing of base stations to get the duplication down to improve the energy efficiency of the network. So I would say that by and large where there are a few players in the network, these players tend to be energy aware and sustainably motivated - the big players in the game like Alcatel-Lucent and companies like that, but when you're dealing with an absolute plethora of different individual suppliers competing to just try and stay alive in the market, then sustainability starts to suffer and it's a big challenge for us into the future.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Kerry, thank you very much for being our guest on Up Close today, and talking with us about energy use of cloud computing.

KERRY HINTON
Thank you.

SHANE HUNTINGTON
Dr Kerry Hinton is Deputy Director and Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Energy Efficiency Telecommunications , in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Melbourne.