Thursday, 27 September 2018

Cloud vs Humanity? The State Of Data Centre Energy Use In 2018

This week we published a report by Paul Johnston and Anne Currie on the state of energy use in the Cloud and how we, as consumers, can make ethical choices about hosting.

It's not merely an academic issue. Data centres may not be at the front of our minds but just because we don't think about them much doesn't mean they aren't vital. In fact, DCs play a major role in humanity's future. As Microsoft President Brad Smith points out they'll, "rank by the middle of the next decade among the large users of electrical power on the planet". We have reached the point that DCs are outstripping the aviation industry as carbon producers and within 5 years they may be on a par with all of transport.

That's crazy isn't it? Tech is supposed to be clean???

To us, the definition of unethical (even if it's inadvertent) is to do harm when you have the means and ability to avoid it.

The aviation industry gets a lot of stick but actually they try pretty hard to reduce carbon emissions. Only carbon-based jet fuel has the energy density to support mass aviation at the moment (although people are working on it).  In tech, we don't have that excuse. We need electricity to run servers not jet fuel and for electricity you have a lot of generation options.

So if this is so bad, why isn't anyone talking about it or doing anything? Well actually, some folk are. The Google Cloud (and all their servers) run on renewable power directly or offsets. That's solar, wind and hydro (though we'll personally also accept nuclear). The same is mostly true of Microsoft Azure. These tech giants are putting some of their vast profits towards cleanly generating the power they rely on. In fact, Aiphabet is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world.

Only Capitalism Can Save Us - No, Really

"But, the government will save us!", you might cry. These days I find I don't really want to rely on that and there's no need to. We can save ourselves. As DC customers, which most of us are, we can buy sustainable servers right now and it won't cost us anything more. We merely need to pay attention and apply a little bit of consumer choice.

As we describe in the paper, as consumers there's loads we can do right now to be sustainable:
  • For Google Cloud users, you're already sustainable. Congratulations and thank you.
  • For Azure users, you’ve mostly done it. Congratulations. Do ask Microsoft to speed up their switch from carbon energy certficates to renewables.
  • For AWS users, you can do it by transitioning your instances/resources to sustainable public regions (currently Dublin, Frankfurt, Canada and Oregon).
  • If you operate your own servers on prem you can choose a renewable energy supplier.
  • For everyone else, tell your Cloud or co-lo provider that Sustainable Servers - your Data Centre powered or offset by renewable energy - by 2024 is what you want.
Capitalism works in certain circumstances and this should be one of them. You have money. If you choose to spend it on sustainable rather than unsustainable energy for your servers then that's what you'll get and more sustainable generation capacity will be built.

All you need to do is state your preference to your Cloud, DC or co-lo provider. If you don't want to do that in person, just sign our sustainable servers petition and we'll even do it for you. This is a no-brainer. Please help.


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The Ethical Future of Data Centres?

"A 5 year goal for 100% Sustainable Servers across all data centres worldwide - every server we operate should be running on sustainable energy"
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were defined in 2000 to “produce a set of universal goals that meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our world”. They're bold, uncontroversial targets for the human race including “zero hunger” and “clean energy” - and they're working:
“More than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty and child mortality dropped by more than half” - The United Nations on their SDGs
In our judgment, tech ethics requires setting such demanding goals, which benefit all humankind, for tech.

There are many ethical goals we could set ourselves but we reckon one of the highest impact, most achievable targets is 100% Sustainable Servers.

About Sustainable Servers
Data Centres use 2% of the world's energy. That's roughly as much as all of aviation. We can fix that.
"We could offset the entire aviation industry" - Anne Currie, Container Solutions
Imagine a world where our data centres were carbon neutral. We would offset every plane flight and, as wealthy and reliable consumers of renewable power, we would drive new investment and innovation in energy generation. We'd be amazing.

That's the world we want to build. But how can we do it?

Most of us don't build our own data centres but there are still simple things we could all do to help deliver 100% Sustainable Servers, for example:
  • Sign our petition to show you care.
  • For on-prem, demand a higher mix of sustainable electricity for power.
  • For new public Cloud, choose a sustainable provider like Google or Azure.
  • Whenever you use a new service, make sustainable servers a major factor. That's why this site is hosted on 100% renewably-powered Blogger.

We need Sustainable Servers. The tech industry must drive it. Google and Azure appear to have secured reliable power for their data centres for years ahead; now the rest of us need to catch up - Sustainable Servers are the new "Gifee": Google Infrastructure For Everyone Else. 
"Servers run on electricity., which could be renewable" - Anne Currie, Container Solutions
For years, many of the world's most successful and forward thinking companies have been quietly switching over to sustainable electricity. They have achieved this by buying renewable power (Google is now the world's biggest corporate customer of renewable energy) and by improving the design of data centres (Facebook have helped found the Open Compute Project to share their improved energy efficiency DC designs). Read our forthcoming whitepaper on Sustainable Server Transition for ideas, help, and guidance. But, you are the expert in your own systems. How could they be cleaner and more energy secure?

We propose the tech industry sets a 5 year goal for 100% Sustainable Servers across all data centres worldwide. Every server we operate should be running on sustainable energy. This is achievable and it will benefit everyone - including ourselves through more secure energy sources. Google, Facebook and Apple are showing the way. Let's do it.
"100% Sustainable Servers by 2024"
Sign our petition.




Saturday, 1 September 2018

How Not To Regret What You Create


Guest post from Sam Warner, edited by Anne Currie

In software, things get built quickly: “move fast and break things”. We see companies, teams and individuals proud of how fast they can make <shiny new thing> but as a community we shouldn’t let this be all that defines us. We need to be more three-dimensional. I find it hard to believe that all we are really concerned with is how quickly we can get features out the door. Don’t get me wrong - as a software consultant, I love providing as much business value to a customer as quickly as I can, but I’m just as proud, if not more, when I can provide software that has gone through considerate design and causes some social good.

Tech Ethics, now more than ever, is something everyone in the industry of software development needs to consider. We need to dive in. And when we do this, we need to be able to create resources and talk about what we discover, but that is far easier said than done. Of late, we’ve seen some technology take nasty turns - people have been the victims of hate-speech on microblogging platforms, their social media data exploited for monetary or political gain, and even fallen victim to misinformation in the form of so-called “fake news”. The users of our systems are growing apprehensive of software once again.

Yet I don’t believe every instance of technology that causes negative social impact is intentionally harmful or exploitative. Sometimes, I think that negligence and lack of awareness are two of the biggest contributors. For example, when Mark Zuckerberg first made Facebook in his university bedroom, I don’t think it was ever planned to be the dopamine-exploiting, data-crunching tool we see it as today. Is it possible that a lack of awareness in Tech Ethics led to Facebook being in a position where it could exploit its users?

We’re beginning to learn from our mistakes. We’re beginning to see fallacies around the benefits of unethical tech debunked. We’re building up case studies, tools and teachings with the goal of preventing us causing and experiencing these regrettable issues again.
Education and awareness is our best friend.

Sharing Your Resources

Up until very recently, my go-to list of advice/resources when anyone asked “how do I become better at this tech ethics thing?” was the following:

  • You’re already off to a great start by asking that question.
  • Go and watch QCon London’s Tech Ethics in Action videos (they’re on InfoQ and all amazing!)
  • Run a retrospective on your current project, but from an entirely ethical standpoint - step in to other people’s shoes and view your project from their eyes.
  • Discuss the output and ideas that follow with colleagues and friends.
  • Push for change, because even the smallest contributions build up to make a world of difference!

I say ‘until recently’, because as of about a week ago there is a new top tip to add to the collection.

“Check out the EthicalOS Toolkit!”

Ethical OS

Developed by the Institute for the Future and the Omidyar Network, EthicalOS toolkit is one of my new favourite tools for teaching about and raising awareness of ethical issues in technology. Their website states their objective is to aid in “anticipating the future impact of today’s technology”, and I think it lives up to this lofty claim.

The toolkit is in actual fact a PDF, with three main tools:


  • Tool 1: A set of fourteen detailed scenarios involving ‘future technology’ designed to start conversations and train us to identify problems on the horizon.
  • Tool 2: A risk mitigation manual - a guide to eight different areas your users could fall victim to the hard-to-anticipate and unwelcome consequences of your software, and how to avoid them in the first place.
  • Tool 3: A handful of strategies and business models to future-proof your development, with an ultimate goal of making healthy development platforms the industry norm!

Each area is further divided into bite-size sections and the guide can be picked up and put down really easily - you only need five minutes to go over some of these concepts for the first time, and it begins to place users in the mindset of a technology ethicist. This is before even beginning to look at the Risk Mitigation Form provided separately on EthicalOS’s website, which pulls the manual into an easy to fill-out checklist of consideration points and actionable tasks.

The guide cleverly balances people and software to produce a refreshing way for everyone to enhance their understanding in this area - from beginners dipping their toes in for the very first time, to thought leaders, there is something in there for everyone.

Their single-page website, and their linked resources, are written in a way that is comprehensive, yet understandable. What lies at the core is a very difficult topic, but the entire thing is presented so clearly that you are almost tricked into believing that it would be simple to write. Make no mistake, this is a new benchmark for learning resources.

The toolkit really highlights how many questions we should be asking.

Sci Fi? 

The scenarios posed to readers vary from the sort of technology you might have already seen or even used, to hyper-futuristic technology that isn’t yet on the horizon. For example, one of the scenes that I think relates heavily to technology right now is scenario 3. This particular setting explores “addiction and the dopamine economy” by detailing a world in which some social media companies decide voluntarily to enforce time limits, creating a social divide between people that spend their time locked-in online and those that are choose to spend their time offline. I have friends that already use apps to limit screen time - think Offtime/Moment/Breakfree - maybe this situation isn’t far from reality, and social media providers could implement this tomorrow. This lies in stark contrast to the more Sci Fi scenario 9, where “Read-and-write” neurotech implants are a reality and users have their thoughts and memories uploaded to the cloud for sharing and analysis, making us ask questions of how we might mitigate and prevent against a surveillance state.

Not only do the scenarios vary in terms of how far they are away from being a reality, they also vary by sector. Scenario 6 is based around the legal industry, asking us if we are ready for a world in which “predictive justice” tools become the preferred method for determining prison sentences, and what the problems with this might be. The impact delivery drones might have on the world is discussed in scenario 12, provoking discussion about the future of logistics from an inclusive and moral standpoint. Scenario 14 covers the automotive sector (very popular where I am based in the West Midlands), talking about a reality in which self-driving vehicles become vulnerable to a new type of realtime ransomware, and how deadly this issue could be.

Whatever your day job, interests, or concerns for future tech are, I think there are a few scenarios in here for everyone.

I myself have found this to be an absolutely invaluable tool in beginning to bring together colleagues and friends and starting to talk about the impact of what we do. The scenarios provide a fantastic foundation to kick start us in to action, and by providing a meaningful and specific vocabulary to readers, it facilitates further conversation and more importantly, terms to describe problems we might identify- saving us from explaining personal issues we’ve experienced in the past, or explaining discomfort as a ’gut feeling’.

I’ll add that a comment I have heard from peers about this toolkit is how useful it would be for any startup. I agree with this, but would stress to any readers sitting on the fence that this is not a kit solely for startups. There is something in there for everyone (convenient - that’s what I asked for in my intro). The resources hosted on EthicalOS are to help all product teams build responsibly.

When you are reading through it, the initial responsibility might be a little overwhelming. You might feel that your current processes are familiar and ‘good enough’ that you don’t want to change. You might not initially know exactly what to do with this deluge of information. But dedicating time to these resources and taking heed of their warnings will be worth it.

After reading through this article, maybe you’ll feel a little lost. Here’s a summary of my five top tips for making the most of the toolkit and checklist:


  • Read through the toolkit. Don’t feel like you should blast through the whole thing in one go, as there is a whole lot of information in there! Instead, check through small sections frequently - I did this with my morning coffee.
  • Go through the supplied checklist with a previous or current project in mind. Try and identify risk areas and begin to think of a plan to mitigate them.
  • Run a workshop (internally, at a meetup group, or with friends) to go through one of the scenarios. For bonus points, choose a scenario based around some of the group’s previously identified risks.
  • Ask if there is scope to change your ways of work. This can be for everything, from open-source projects to commercial work - for any software development processes you have, can you add regular risk reviews or ethical feasibility when considering new features?
  • Pass it on! Let more people know that this toolkit exists.


I truly believe that any team that takes ideas from this list and the EthicalOS toolkit will be on to the start of something great. The smallest contributions to ethical technology and considerate design build up to create a global network of developers that truly care about the human implications what they make. By starting at home, and with small steps, we can begin to reprogram the values of software engineering.

We should all strive for the level of future-proofing that EthicalOS is pushing us towards. By doing this, we will standardise these processes and thoughts, and we might begin to ensure we don’t regret what we build.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Tech Ethics for Developers

After the Facebook, Uber and Volkswagen scandals, where are we as an industry? How did we get here and will things get better or worse? 80% of developers don’t feel it’s their responsibility if unethical products go live. Are they right?

We're here to question who is ultimately responsible for the impact of tech products, for good and bad, and what they can do about it.

Code doesn't kill people, product managers do? Or maybe shareholders? CEOs? Developers? Or do we all need to be informed and responsible?

In July, we ran Coed:Ethics a radically new event championing diverse, bottom-up, developer-driven ethics asking how can we make technologists the last bastion of defence against unethical products? After all, we design, write and deploy them.

With talks, open mic and panels, we examined ethical decision-making at scale, building ethical products vs unethical ones, the psychology of making and standing by decisions and the pragmatic application of ethics within the Agile or CD process.

Should techies be amoral guns for hire? Can we be more and what resources can help us? This was the first in a series of events designed to change the conversation. Read more about the conference, view the videos and read the attendee write-ups.

Resources

One of our Coed:Ethics goals is to build resources for developers around ethics in technology. We've set up a github project of useful links, thoughts and information for devs and non-devs alike. Please read and contribute your favourite resources.

We are also looking into resources about and trials of ethical Agile processes. Can we automate ethics? If not, how close can we get?

Collaborations


  • We are collaborating with the tech think tank Doteveryone on ethical checklists (or Responsible Tech as their project is called).
  • We are good friends with the team behind the GoodTechConf in Brighton in November. A great conference to go to  after ours!


Who are we?

Coed:Ethics is brought to you by Anne Currie and the team at Container Solutions working together with Coed:Code, the London tech meetup with over 700 members of all ages, genders, races, levels of experience in tech and (dis)abilities. Ethics in tech is a debate for everyone. Follow us @coedethics, @anne_e_currie, @containersoluti or @coedcode.