The Green Programmer

What can we do for a sustainable web?

Photo credit: Frank Carver (c) 2020

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am currently undertaking research for a PhD in sustainable software. I don’t have full results from my experimentation so far, but the more I look into this area, and the more that I see of the huge impact the internet has on the environment, the more I want to start making changes right now.

This post covers some of the things I am doing, and some of the things you can do too, to help make our contribution to the internet “greener”.

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What does sustainability mean in software development?

Photo credit: The United Nations

Sustainability is a complex term that is used in a lot of different contexts, and has many different assumptions and associations toed to it. In my research, sustainability is a vital concept which underlies the research, and is found in many of the key papers in the research literature. So there is no avoiding the question: what does sustainability mean in software development?

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Tommy Flowers 2020 presentation

At the recent Tommy Flowers Network conference, I presented a five-minute session on my research as part of their “Lightning Talks”. Despite several practice runs and trimming the presentation to fit the time slot, I still managed to hit the time limit before I got to my final two slides.

After staying with the conference to watch the remaining presentations for that day, I decided to re-record a version of the same presentation that I am calling the Director’s Cut. In this one I take a bit more time to explain each step, with the result that it take a bit over ten minutes.

This is still pretty short, so even if you did see the rushed live presentation, I encourage you to take a look at this one, to get the full experience.

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The Tommy Flowers Network Autumn 2020 Conference

Photo credit: Tommy Flowers Network

The Tommy Flowers Network is a partnership between industry and academia to bring together a unique combination of theoretical, practical, and commercial approaches. Named after the GPO engineer Tommy Flowers BSc DSc MBE, who worked on the code breaking machines at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, the Network aims to collaborate on solving some of the biggest social and technological problems of our age.

The Tommy Flowers Network is currently sponsored by British Telecom (BT) and hosts regular conferences at BT’s Adastral Park research site. In 2020 the Autumn conference runs from 12th-16th October and is being held fully online. I have been given the opportunity to present my work at this conference on Wednesday 14 October in the form of a five-minute “Lightning Talk”.

I recommend you check out Tommy Flowers Network and the Autumn 2020 conference. Even if you don’t have a chance to attend live, I understand that the presentations will be shared on their website after the event.

If you want a flavour of my talk ahead of time, feel free to download the PowerPoint slide deck for the presentation.

Why do I think we can make a difference?

Photo credit: Jefferson Santos - Unsplash

In 2019, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden estimated that the internet uses over 10% of the world’s electricity. This figure is still growing, too. Enforced isolation driven by the COVID19 pandemic has seen internet usage shoot up.

Naturally, there has been a lot of research on this topic, and I plan to explore some of it on this blog in future posts. However, most of it has concentrated on the hardware - the cables, routers, computers, and data centres which comprise the physical parts of the system. These are the bits that consume all this energy, after all, and if their consumption can be improved it seems reasonable to assume that the overall energy consumption of the internet as a system will decrease.

Unfortunately, behind this level of obviousness are some things which get a lot less airtime:

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A New Venture

A first blog post is always a little bit uncomfortable, but we all have to start somewhere.

This is a blog in which I intend to explore the strange and often counterintuitive world of “green“ (a.k.a “sustainable“) programming and software development in general.

I feel as if there is a lot to say, so I hope I manage to get it written down. And I hope you will be along for the journey!