Dispatches from OpenWorld: Wednesday Keynote Roundup

There were three keynotes today at OpenWorld; this TreeHugger has been busy enough with surveying the eco-scene to have missed the keynotes from the previous days, so was  interested in taking the green pulse of today’s addresses in hopes that it could offer a glimpse into where green flies on the radars of some of the technology world’s heavy hitters. The addresses were given by Jonathan Schwartz, President and CEO of Sun Microsystems, Inc., Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Inc., and Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle.

Keynotes offer the chance to really connect with a target audience, introduce them to what’s new, exciting and different, and build excitement around what the company has been working on; it’s also a great opportunity to surprise some people and create some buzz. So, TreeHugger was really hoping to hear about some exciting green innovations; would they deliver?

First up was Jonathan Schwartz. He took a moment to note that, in server farms, the cost of energy is eclipsing the cost of the servers themselves; it’s as if we all had cars whose gas cost more than the car did (which is fodder for another post at another time). That’s a big problem, for sure, for which there are no quick ‘n easy answers. He followed that up with a mention of Sun’s UltraSPARC T2 — the “world’s fastest, most energy-efficient CPU” — which is interesting, and a nice accomplishment, but illustrates how “green” is often perceived and executed in the larger tech world: an absolute — the “fastest, most energy-efficient” — in a green world that’s full of grey area. It’s hard to put something like this in context, which means that TreeHugger is still waiting to be impressed.

Michael Dell was the only keynoter to address green explicitly, emphasizing that Dell will be “the first technology company to be carbon neutral by the end of 2008,” along with a proclamation that “Dell’s desktops are world’s most energy-efficient.” Again, these are nice accomplishment, but it’s really hard to mesh these absolute statements with the many possible shades that make up the green world. It’s not easy to measure the true environmental impact of a statement like “most energy-efficient,” nor is it easy to quantify that against other companies’ efforts, or even other impacts within the company.

The point is this: companies like Dell and Sun are doing some green things, and some things that are not so green. They like to (and are smart to) emphasize the green things as being a TreeHugger gains more and more momentum in a mainstream world.

OpenWorld has proven that “green” and information technology are just starting to come together in a meaningful way; a few changes have been made, and even more promises to change, but we can’t proclaim that any one company has “gone green.” There is lots of big talk, plenty of goals to be met, and, sadly, lots of token efforts that we can’t take very seriously. But that’s the nature of the infancy in which the IT movement finds itself when it comes to going green: before action comes thinking, talking and planning, which is the stage that we find a lot of this.

The way you perceive this depends on your outlook on the green world. Do you see hope for the future, or are we screwed? Can business help us forge a path to a greener future, or will they sink the ship? We’re inclined to believe that we still have a chance to change the way the world works, so we approach these developments with cautious optimism. Nothing we’ve seen here inspires to us to proclaim that “So-and-so is a green company, top to bottom” or “Line up behind this person, because they will not fail.” But that would be applying another absolute label to a world full of gradients.

Oh, and Larry Ellison? Sadly, nothing about his keynote led us to believe that Oracle is doing anything to address their environmental impact, and that speaks louder than anything we could say about it here.

Stay tuned for some final thoughts from OpenWorld as it closes up shop tomorrow morning.

About the Author: Collin Dunn