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Archive for August 15th, 2008

Fahrenheit 451

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 15 August 2008

I recently attended the JISC’s Innovation Forum. One of the most interesting of the plenary talks was given by HEFCE’s John Selby. In his talk John praised the work of the JISC and the JISC Services, but went on to warn of troubled financial times ahead for the educational sector. The glory days of the past 10 years are over, he predicted.

This was probably not unexpected. What did surprise me, however, was the figures John quoted which put the carbon cost to the environment on par with the cost of flying – both at 2%.

This generated much debate at the forum, and, later on at the conference meal and in the bar. Although people questioned the accuracy of these figures, and wanted to know how these figures were obtained, there was an awareness that the carbon cost of IT is an issue which the IT secure needs to address. I should add that I subsequently came across details of a forthcoming Government Goes Green conference in which Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister, BERR was quoted as saying that

ICT is now responsible for around 2% of global CO2 emissions. The public sector, with annual IT spending of £14bn, has an important role to play in reducing this two percent. An increased focus on sustainable procurement and efficient use of IT products are two key areas that it needs to work on and I am very pleased to see a conference dedicated on this.

At the JISC Innovation Forum dinner I found myself sitting next to colleagues from the Digital Curation Centre (DCC). I suggested, partly in jest, that although there was a clear need for continued development of networked services which are popular with the users, we had to ask ourselves where the costs of preserving digital resources could be justified. If, as we learnt from Alison Wildish’s recent presentation at the first JISC PoWR workshop, those involved in Web development activities tend to focus on the pressing needs of their user communities and find it difficult to justify diverting scarce resources to preserving resources which are no longer of significant interest to the institution, why don’t we stop pushing the notion of digital preservation. And not only will this allow the development community to focus their efforts on responding to pressing user needs – but removing archived files from hard disk drives could result in significant savings in energy.

This approach would then both help the users and help save the planet :-)

As I’ve said this was intended as a joke, over our conference meal. But we realised that their may be benefits for the digital preservation community in making such suggestions. After all, preservation is widely considered as worthy but dull. If digital preservation was regarded as something radical, might it have a greater appeal to developers? Could those involved in digital preservation work – harvesting old Web sites and even implementing OAIS models – find themselves repositioned as members of an underground radical movement, secretly preserving digital artefacts for a society which regards such activities as unacceptable. Fahrenheit 451 for the 21st century, perhaps.

Save a Polar Bear campaign posterThe following day when I suggested this, I was told that there have been discussions about strategies for digital preservation which acknowledge that there are environmental factors which need to be addressed. It seems that there have been proposals that such preservation activities should be based in places such as Greenland and Alaska where the low temperatures may reduce the need for consuming energy to keep the disk drives running at acceptable temperatures.

Now scientists may point out that running large scale server farms in locations near glaciers and the ice cap may increase the rate at which they melt. But the ideas which were bounced around at the event did make me wonder whether centralisation of networked services (e.g. running applications hosted by Google or Yahoo or running our applications on Amazon’s S3 and EC2 servers) would be more beneficial to the environment than all of our institutions running our own local servers.

And perhaps such discussion might be useful in a teaching context. Does data curation, for example, conflict with environmental protection? If so, should we forget it? Or could this approach result in deletion of the very data that could save the planet

What do you think?

And if you’d like to take part in a viral marketing campaign which seeks to make digital preservation interesting by suggesting that it might be responsible for global warming, feel free to make use of the post which has been produced. And note that a Creative Commons zero licence (currently in beta) has been assigned to this resource, so you don’t need to cite the original source. Let’s be part of an underground movement :-)

Posted in Finances, preservation | 19 Comments »