Thanks to the charming people at Google, I now realize where I have been going wrong for the past 30 years. Ever since 1982, I’ve been concerned with user agents, clients, message transfer agents, SMTP, IMAP, POP, X.400, X.500, and all the other bits and pieces that fit together (sometimes with difficulty) to build a fully-fledged email system. But now that I’ve read “The Story of Send,” it seems that I should have been looking into how to route email around Dracula, lakes, and piping before delivering it to the tender mercies of hardhat-wearing shorts-clad engineers who work in a balmy 80 degrees. It’s all so clear now.
Although it’s easy for email professionals to poke fun at Google’s cartoon representation of how email works, I do like the way that Google has attempted to inform “the average consumer” how the Gmail service processes email. I can’t think of anything quite like this before.
The green agenda provides the serious stuff behind the cute depictions of email flowing along lines and into computers. Google discusses the clean power used for their datacenters and how the efficiency of their purpose-built servers contributes to reducing the carbon footprint of the Gmail service. Being green is a good thing, a topic that Google emphasizes in its datacenter operations, server recycling, and so on.
Datacenter efficiency in power and cooling is a huge part of making cloud economics work. Essentially, if you can’t run datacenters at levels that consume low levels of power for servers and cooling to keep the servers at optimal temperature, it’s unlikely that you will be able to deliver services at a cost point that makes them interesting for consumers. This is why cloud provides like Google and Microsoft pay enormous attention to where their datacenters are located (ideally close to sources of cheap power), datacenter design (maximize natural cooling and reduce the need for air conditioning to the lowest possible level), internal layout (utilize fluid dynamics and other sciences to ensure efficient air circulation), and server design (draw as little power as possible).
When everything comes together, cloud services can provide applications at a fraction of the power and cooling cost than an on-premises system can. This is logical because the efficiency of large numbers of servers working in purpose-designed datacenters to handle millions of users is always likely to be more efficient than the computing environment deployed by an average company. Google publishes an interesting comparison that reckons Gmail consumes 0.22kWh of energy per user annually (or $0.22 in the U.S.) against 176kWh for a user in a small business or 7.6kWh for a user in a large business. The decrease in energy used between large and small businesses indicates greater efficiency and sharing of power as the number of users rise. Cloud services take this trend to a whole new level.
So when you’re considering Google Apps or Office 365 and wondering how Google and Microsoft are able to price their subscriptions as keenly as they do, reflect that it’s all about leveraging the power to scale and taking advantages of all of the efficiencies that qualities like good design, automation, standardization, and simplification bring to the table. Even though Google’s cute cartoon is more like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” than real-life email, the message that it delivers is ultra-serious, even if it avoids mentioning all the mucky bits that have to fit together to make email work.