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SaaS has a future; just don't call it green

Attendees at a big software-as-a-service conference turn a cold shoulder to sessions devoted to green aspects of cloud computing.

OpSource is hosting a very timely conference in San Francisco this week on software-as-a-service. What with the meltdown in the economy and continuing concern about the cost and environmental impact of energy use, there's interest in how cloud computing will impact the IT world.

And what better way to cut through the hype over the so-called green aspects of SaaS than to assemble veteran technologists who might share their experiences with the uninitiated? That's the usual format: People ready to impart knowledge to people eager to receive knowledge.


Good idea but, well, maybe another day.

As I sat in a cavernous ballroom in San Francisco's Westin St. Francis Hotel scribbling down notes, it dawned on me that I was one of, literally, a handful of people listening to the lecturer. At most, there were 10 or 15 of us--a pity because as he faced a sea of mostly empty seats, Randy Bias, a technology strategist for GoGrid, a supplier of cloud computing infrastructure, offered up a convincing brief on the energy-saving advantages of virtualization and why it makes sense to offload server functions to the cloud.

He was followed on stage by Adrian Bowles, a director at Datamonitor, who was equally eloquent about why there are compelling business reasons to rip up the procedures of hardware provisioning that IT followed until the recession (some call it a depression) hit. "The old days of 'buy it, plug it in, and run it' are probably gone forever," Bowles said, proceeding to lay out a hard-headed case on behalf of going green.

By then, I counted eight people--eight--in the ballroom (not including the speaker). Most of the folks attending this two-day kaffeeklatsch couldn't be bothered with a topic that obviously bored them silly. No matter that green tech at its most basic is technology done with a low environmental impact. For some reason, a discussion of low-energy technologies, virtualization, and improved cooling techniques weren't enough to hook them.

As they used to say back in my Brooklyn neighborhood, whaddya gonna do? But truth be told, I was puzzled by all the no-shows. It wasn't as if the other sessions being held at the same time--"SaaS marketing in a downturn" and "Architecting and delivery for SaaS success"--were so much more thrilling.

Could it be that "green" remains too squishy a concept for most of these red-blooded show-me-the-money types? I buttonholed one attendee in a hallway, who agreed as he was munching down a free ice cream provided by the show's sponsors. But the proverbial man on the street interview doesn't suffice.

I heard it said at one of the sessions how IT compensation plans now hinge on how successful you are doing projects faster and doing them more inexpensively. That's why SaaS advocates believe their timing couldn't be any better. Maybe that's misplaced optimism; we'll see as the year progresses.

But this much is clear: telling the boss that you're saving the environment in the process is not likely to be the clincher. Ever.