This summer, MessageLabs (now part of Symantec) released a white-paper on The Greening of SaaS which I found very disappointing because one key point that many vendors overlook when selling SaaS is how it can considerably green your operations if implemented and utilized properly.
The paper indicates that with no hardware to purchase or software to run, the energy required to power that hardware and execute that software is eliminated or significantly reduced, depending on client-side consumption. While it is true that the client does not need to buy, maintain, and then dispose of (as much) energy consuming software if they go SaaS, as they won’t need a server farm in a data centre, this does not make SaaS green. If the “SaaS” vendor is actually an ASP-in-disguise vendor maintaining a separate instance of the application on separate hardware for each client, the same amount of energy will be utilized and the same amount of carbon produced. The only difference is that it shows up on the provider’s carbon footprint and not the client’s. That’s not green at all. It’s only green, on the server side, if the vendor is using a shared multi-tenant model and dynamically managing the modern high-density low-power virtualized server farm so that only the processors and storage devices currently being utilized are powered up and the utilization of active processors is at least 70% (to meet the EU PEU guidelines for green).
Furthermore, it then says that the three key local ingredients for best customer results are:
- desktop and notebook PCs configured to spin down, suspend, or turn off when not in use,
- utilization of usage-based power consumption devices (with idle ports suspended and inactive ports disabled) on the LAN, and
- utilization of WAN optimization devices to minimize equipment needs, data transfer, and power consumption
And while all of this is a good start, it makes absolutely no mention of thin client. If all your applications are over the web, why can’t you use a SunRay II or a CP20 instead of an energy hogging desktop? Even a modern desktop will still consume an average of 100 watts of power to the 4 watts for a SunRay II or the 25 watts for the CP20 if you need to replace high-end developer workstations. Furthermore, there’s no mention that you should be replacing your old energy hog CRTs with low-energy LCD monitors if you really want to be power efficient. (Now, it is true that you’ll need one or more servers and SANS with your virtual machine instances to support your thin clients, but when you can easily run 128 virtual machine instances off of a modern, high-density, low-power 32-core diskless server, which can all be stored with terabytes of room to spare on your standard 4U 48 TB SAN, you’re still saving oodles of energy and fistfuls of dollars because the cost of 128 SunRays, 1 server, and 1 SAN is significantly less than 128 desktops which need to be replaced at least twice as often as the thin clients, which have twice the lifespan.)
So yes, SaaS is a very green solution … if it’s done right. It’s not just about aggregating traffic to minimize data transfer needs and, thus, equipment needs to support the data transfer, it’s about being smart with resource and energy utilization every step of the way, from the end user all the way back to the provider’s data centre.