RSA Conference 2012: Power Shortage by ICT? You Can’t Be Serious, Are You?

Cloud conferences are gaining momentum and attendance, but  the RSA Conference 2012 I’ve attended held Feb. 27 through March 2 in San Francisco attracted more people by far. I talked to and interviewed many people there, and I plan to write about them and the security technologies they presented.

This was my second conference since getting my iPhone. It was very handy to have a smartphone on the show floor, but that isn’t what I plan to talk about here.

Instead, I want to share my observations on how people conducted their business as they walked around the huge Moscone Center.

Enterprise vs. startup environments: Like any modern conference, this one provided Wi-Fi access to press and attendees. At the recent Cloud Connect, access was open, without any encryption or pass key. Because this one was an RSA conference, Wi-Fi access was controlled with WPA-2 Enterprise. My Windows environment is somewhat special in the US because it is a Japanese version of Windows 7. The RSA conference people prepared instructions for accessing the Wi-Fi network. The configuration of Windows in the Japanese version is not the same as in the English counterpart. After a few attempts, I gave up, went to the press room, and connected to one of the good old Ethernet cables there. The conference people had set up a wireless helpdesk to give a hand to poor souls like me. But I did not go there, to avoid the hassle of working with the helpdesk staff. So throughout the conference I was online by wire.

This is not meant to be a criticism of the conference. The RSA conference represents established enterprises, while Cloud Connect represented the startup culture. Security is a big concern for enterprises. I thought the difference between the two conferences was a good contrast.

Mobility, Wi-Fi, ubiquitous, and battery: My iPhone loses power rapidly and requires frequent recharging, so I bought another gadget that is very thin and mounts on the iPhone for additional battery capacity. During the conference I saw people charging their iPhones constantly everywhere, and PCs and Macs were no exceptions—people were charging those laptops all the time and everywhere. This is definitely killing ubiquitous access to the Net. Mobility or wireless is powerless when you cannot run your gadget because of power loss.

Also, I wonder how much power was consumed by smartphones and laptops alone during the conference. I do not know the precise number of attendees, but my guess is 2,000 to 3,000. And almost everyone had either a smartphone or a laptop or both. Also, even if the battery technology is improving, losing some power during charging and discharging is inevitable. At this scale, each loss and the total number of devices are still manageable, and the loss does not amount to anything big. But if we are talking about millions and billions of these gadgets worldwide, the total loss can be staggering. What with Big Data, I wonder if the next energy crisis will be caused by ICT.

Internet growth is and will be sustained by mobile technologies and wireless sensors. Wireless sensors are stationary, while mobile phones are truly mobile. Laptop computers with Wi-Fi and cellular connections are mobile but a little different from mobile phones. It is likely that you sit down someplace to work on your laptop computer, even if it is wirelessly connected, but you may conduct your business with a mobile phone while moving.

Network access and battery technology hold even greater growth potential. The iPhone design is great for maximizing a connection to a Wi-Fi access point, which often is free and faster than a cellular connection, which charges on the basis of data traffic volume. As far as I can tell, the iPhone does not have a very sophisticated configuration for encryption or authentication, which enterprises require for connection to a Wi-Fi network.

If these two problems of network connectivity and battery life are solved, market growth will skyrocket. I have no idea where and how far this is going. We have been working on ICT to make our lives more convenient, commoditizing much of the equipment and making it cheap to use. It is a good thing for convenience, and convenience fuels further growth in ICT and its application markets.

What is orthogonal to this trend is security, and people are aware of it. Free information flow in the Internet is a good thing, but bad guys are also free to come in and poison the water. Because of this, we need firewalls and malware prevention. We need sophisticated Wi-Fi access, as at the RSA conference. On one hand, security dampens growth, but on the other hand, new technologies and business opportunities are born to implement security, as we saw at the RSA conference.

What people are not paying attention to is energy use. The online growth trend will continue, and it is probably impossible to stop it. Because it is cheap to use, vendors throw in any amount of email storage like Gmail and Hotmail for free. The providers are happy to accommodate the demands because it is a good promotion for their companies. People waste storage and other IT resources because they seem to be infinitely available forever. When gasoline was only 50 cents per gallon in the 1970s, people drove large automobiles and did not pay attention to conserving energy at all. Forty years later, we face $5 gasoline and worry about depleting the oil supply. Maybe a power shortage caused by ICT fueled by mobility won’t happen for another 40 to 50 years. I certainly hope my fear is groundless.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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