Category Archives: Green Computing

Environmental topics including cross-posts from the Earthjustice blog

Telecommuting Is About More Than Just The Technology

We’ve hit the golden age of telework, with myriad options to work remotely from a broadband-connected home, a hotel, or a cafe on a mobile device. The explosion of cloud and mobile technologies makes our actual location the least important aspect of connecting with our applications and data. And there are more and more reasons to support working remotely. Per Reuters, the state of commuting is a “virtual horror show”, with the average commute costing the working poor six percent of their income. It’s three percent for more wealthy Americans. And long commutes have negative impacts on health and stress levels. Add to this the potential cost savings if your headquarters doesn’t require an office or cubicle for every employee. For small NPOs, do you even really need an office? Plus, we can now hire people based on their absolute suitability to the job without requiring them to relocate. It’s all good, right?

Well, yes, if it’s done correctly.  And a good remote work culture requires more than seamless technology. Supervisors need to know how to engage with remote employees, management needs to know how to be inclusive, and the workers themselves need to know how to maintain relationships without the day to day exposure to their colleagues.  Moving to a telework culture requires planning and insight.  Here are a few things to consider.

Remote Workers Need To Be Engaged

I do my best to follow the rule of communicating with people in the medium that they prefer. I trade a lot of email with the people who, like me, are always on it; I pick up the phone for the people who aren’t; I text message with the staff that live on their smartphones. But, with a remote employee, I break that rule and communicate, primarily, by voice and video.  Emoticons don’t do much to actually communicate how you feel about what your discussing.  Your voice and mannerisms are much better suited for it.  And having an employee, or teammate, that you don’t see on a regular basis proves the old adage of “out of sight, out of mind”.

 In Person Appearances Are Required

For the remote worker to truly be a part of the organization, they have to have relationships with their co-workers.  Accordingly, just hiring someone who lives far away and getting them started as a remote worker might be the worst thing that you can do for them.  At a minimum, requiring that they work for two to four weeks at the main office as part of their orientation is quite justified.  For staff who have highly interactive roles, you might require a year at the office before the telework can commence.

Once the position is remote, in-person attendance at company events (such as all staff meetings and retreats) should be required. When on-site isn’t possible, include them via video or phone (preferably video). On-site staff need to remember them, and not forget to include them on invites. Staff should make sure that they’re in virtual attendance once the event occurs.

Technical Literacy Requirements Must Be High

It’s great that the remote access tech is now so prevalent, but the remote worker still needs to be comfortable and adept with technology.  If they need a lot of hand-holding, virtual hands won’t be sufficient.  Alternatively, the company might require (and/or assist with) obtaining local tech support.  But, with nonprofit IT staffing a tight resource, remote technophobes can make for very time-consuming customers. Establishing a computer-literacy test and making it a requirement for remote work is well-advised; it will ease a lot of headaches down the road.

Get The Policies In Place First

Here’s what you don’t want: numerous teleworkers with different arrangements.  Some have a company-supplied computer, some don’t.  The company pays for one person’s broadband account, but not another’s. One person has a company-supplied VOIP phone, the other uses their personal lines. I’ve worked at companies where this was all subject to hiring negotiations, and IT wasn’t consulted. What a nightmare! As with the office technology, IT will be much more productive if the remote setups are consistent, and the remote staff will be happier if they don’t feel like others get special treatment.

Go Forth And Telecommute

Don’t let any of this stop you — the workforce of the future is not nearly as geography bound as we’ve been in the past, and the benefits are compelling.  But understand that company culture is a thing that needs to be managed, and managed all the more actively when the company is more virtual.

Where I’ll be at 12NTC


We are just under three weeks away from the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference and, as usual, it’s shaping up to be quite an event. It’s almost sold out, so grab your tickets if you haven’t yet! There are a bunch of fellow regular attendees that I missed last year when I had to sit it out, and there are lots of people I’ve met online that will be great to F2A*! So here’s a rundown of the places I know I’ll be if you want to meetup:

Monday, 4/2, pre-conference: #ntcbeer! As detailed in my prior post, the 4th annual get-together will be within walking distance of the hotel this year and it will run a little later, so that everyone with a dinner to go to can consider themselves un-conflicted. Details are on the official Facebook event page, visible to all (even FB haters, whom I often sympathize with).

Tuesday, 4/3: as always, I’ll be participating in the Day of Service, helping out some TBD nonprofit with some technical advice. In the afternoon I’ll be manning the Idealware table at the Science Fair. This is a great place to catch me and schedule a meetup.


Either 4/3 or 4/4, I’ll be presenting my “Doctor Who in A Tale Of Two NTCs” ignite, featuring many infamous NTENners in Lego format and a an exciting Sci-Fi story about daleks, time travel and technology.

Wednesday, 4/4: I’m participating in three sessions on Wednesday. First up, at 10:30, Tips and Tools for Technology Planning, with Carlos Bergfeld and Ariel Gilbert-Knight of Techsoup and Karl Robillard of the St. Anthony Foundation. At 1:30 I’ll co present on Only You Can Prevent Security Breaches with Legal Tech Expert Kate Bladow. And at 3:30 I’ll join common co-conspirators Matt Eshleman of CITIDC and Judi Sohn of Convio to talk about VOIP.

Thursday 4/5: My one session today, again with Matt from CitiDC,will be an oldie but goodie – the Virtualization Salon. Whether you’re about to dive in to the world of virtualized servers, or you’re an old hand with advanced questions or wisdom to share, this will cover the gambit in #ntctech style, with Powerpoint only on hand as an instructional aid and round the room wisdom sharing.

Thursday is also awards day, and as the honored recipient of last year’s NTEN Award, I get to present it to this year’s winner (no spoilers here!).

Sleep will wait until post-NTC. The best nonprofit tech party is almost here — see you there?

* Face to Avatar

Administrivia

For the three of you that noticed we were unavailable yesterday, my normally drama free (and wind-powered) hosting service, Canvas Dreams, had a nasty power failure and moved my domains to a new server. Since I follow what I consider to be a best practice of managing my DNS with a separate company from my hosting service (I’ve had to many unreliable hosting service experiences prior to finding Canvas Dreams), my site didn’t survive the transfer without a DNS update and, as usual, this all happened while I was out of town on a business trip. We’re back today.

In the Bay Area and still wrestling with the concepts of cloud computing? NTEN has you covered with a Cloud Computing mega event on Monday, August 29th. I’ll be presenting, along with such luminaries as Holly Ross, Allen Gunn, Donny Shimamoto and more.

And, finally, a bit of bragging about something I’m really excited about: we now have solar panels installed at our home (making this a very green blog indeed). We took a leasing deal from highly-rated Sungevity that should significantly reduce our energy costs along with our carbon footprint. Bill Gates might think home solar is a fad for the wealthy, but, hey, I work at a nonprofit and I not only can afford it, it will save me money. The picture above is our roof with the last panel being installed.

What Bill Gates Should Know About Solar Energy

This post was originally published on the Earthjustice Blog in May of 2011.

Former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates gave a talk last month at TED on climate change. His overall point was dead on—we need big solutions for a big problem. And he’s a man who is willing to back what he speaks about financially. But, it was interesting to see him dismiss the small steps in a somewhat cynical fashion, characterizing home installations of solar panels as an ineffectual fad for the rich. Gates said:

The solutions that work in the rich world don’t even come close to solving the [energy] problem. If you’re interested in cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. If you’re interested in solving the world’s energy problems, it’s things like big [solar projects] in the desert.

There are numerous problems with this characterization of home solar customers and the impact they have on the climate. First, solar panels have dropped in costdramatically, to the point where middle-class families can lease them and, under the right conditions (roof design and placement) pay less per month for the lease and tiny energy bill than they would for their former electricity costs alone. We’ve hit a point where the economics are compelling, even if you aren’t on board with the carbon reduction goal. And, hey, my solar lease even came with a free iPad 2. There are plenty of incentives.

Secondly, the “cuteness” dig is pretty ironic, as the former president of IBM was rumored to have said of early graphical operating systems:

“Executives don’t want to click a ‘mouse,’ they want to issue commands!”

PC’s won out over the mainframes the same way that solar might ultimately win out over coal and nuclear: they were trendy at home, and the home users brought them to their businesses. Why wouldn’t the Microsoft model work for solar?

Of course, the climate crisis won’t be solved by homeowners alone. Businesses need to be on board and the energy providers have to transition from the legacy power sources. But that doesn’t mean that individual actions are worthless—far from it.

It’s not just that every little bit counts. It’s that winning the battle to embrace alternate power sources, like every battle, is about winning the hearts and minds of the people. And nobody should know that better than the man that took down the mainframes with his personal computers one house at a time.

Virtualization: The Revolution in Server Management and Why You Should Adopt It

This article was co-written by Matt Eshleman of Community IT Innovators and first published on the NTEN Blog in June of 2009.

  

Peter Campbell, Earthjustice and Matthew Eshleman, Community IT Innovators

This year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference offered a good chance to discuss one the most important — but geeky — developments in the world of computers and networks: server virtualization.

Targeting a highly technical session to an NTEN audience is kind of like cooking a gourmet meal with one entrée for 1000 randomly picked people. We knew our attendees would include as many people who were new to the concepts as there were tech-savvy types looking for tips on resolving cache conflicts between the SAN, DBMS and Hypervisor. We aimed to start very broad, focus on use cases, and leave the real tech stuff to the Q&A. We’ll try to do the same in this article.

We’ve already summarized the view from the top in a quick, ignite-style presentation, available wherever fine NTC materials are found (and also on Slideshare).  In a nutshell, virtualization technology allows many computers to run concurrently on one server, each believing it’s the sole occupant. This allows for energy and cost savings, greater efficiency, and some astounding improvements in the manageability of your networks and backups, as servers can be cloned or dragged, dropped and copied, allowing for far less downtime when maintenance is required and easy access to test environments.  It accomplishes this by making the communication between an operating system, like Windows or Linux, generic and hardware-independent.

Most of the discussion related to virtualization has been centered on large data centers and enterprise implementations, but a small network can also take advantage of the benefits that virtualization has to offer. Here are three common scenarios:

  • Using a new server running a virtualization hypervisor to migrate an existing server
  • Using a new server to consolidate 3-4 physical servers to save on electric & warranty expenses
  • Using a storage area network (SAN) to add flexibility and expandability to the infrastructure

In the first scenario, an existing server is converted into a virtual server running on new physical hardware. Tools from VMWare and other vendors allow disks to be resized, additional processor cores to be assigned and RAM to be added. The benefit to this process is that the physical server now exists on a new hardware platform with additional resources. End users are shielded from major disruptions and IT staff are not required to make any changes to scripts or touch workstations.

The second scenario, much like the first case, starts with the addition of new physical hardware to the network. Today’s servers are so powerful, it’s unlikely that more that 5% of their total processing power is used. That excess capacity allows an organization to use virtualization to lower their hardware expenses by consolidating multiple servers on one hardware platform. Ideal candidates are servers that run web & intranet applications, antivirus management, backup, directory services, or terminal services.  Servers that do a lot of transactional processing such as database & email servers can also be virtualized but require a more thoughtful network architecture.

The final scenario involves taking the first step toward a more traditional enterprise implementation, incorporating two physical servers connected to a SAN. In this scenario, the hardware resources continue to be abstracted from the virtual servers. The SAN provides much more flexibility in adding storage capacity and assigning it to the virtual servers as required. Adding multiple server heads onto the SAN will also provide the capacity to take advantage of advanced features such as High Availability, Live Server Migration, and Dynamic Resource Scheduling.

The space for virtualization software is highly competitive. Vendors such as Microsoft, VMWare, Citrix and Virtual Iron continue to lower their prices or provide their virtualization software for free. Using no-cost software, an organization can comfortably run a virtual server environment of 16 virtual servers on 3 physical machines.

The session was followed by a healthy and engaging Q&A, and we were fortunate to have it all transcribed by the incredibility talented Jack Aponte. Scroll down to 10:12 in her NTC Live Blog for a full re-enactment of the session. We can also start a new Q&A, in comments, below.

And stayed tuned for more! The biggest paradigm shift from virtualization is related to the process surrounding the backup and recovery of virtual servers. We’ll be writing an article for the November NTEN newsletter with some detailed scenarios related to backup & disaster recovery in the virtual environment.

Tech Tips From The Nonprofit Technology Conference

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in May of 2010.

Last month, I reported on the first annual Tech Track, a series of sessions presented at the April, 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference. In that post I listed the topics covered in the five session track. Today I want to discuss some of the answers that the group came up with.

Session 1: Working Without a Wire

This session covered wireless technologies, from cell phones to laptops. Some conclusions:

The state of wireless is still not 100%, but it’s better than it was last year and it’s still improving Major metropolitan areas are well covered; remote areas (like Wyoming) are not. There are alternatives, such as Satellite, but that still requires that your location be in unobstructed satellite range. All in all, we can’t assume that wireless access is a given, and the challenge is more about managing staff expectations than installing all of the wireless by ourselves. It will get there.
Wireless security options are improving. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), remote access solutions (such as Citrix, VNC andTerminal Services) are being provided for more devices and platforms, and the major smartphone companies are supporting enterprise features like remote device wipes.
Policy-wise, more orgs are moving to a module where staff buy their own smartphones and the companies reimburse a portion of the bill to cover business use. Some companies set strict password policies for accessing office content; others don’t.

Session 2: Proper Plumbing

This session was pitched as covering virtualization and other server room technologies, but when we quizzed the participants, virtualization was at the top of their list, so that’s what we focused on.

We established that virtualizing servers is a recommended practice. If you have a consultant recommending it and you don’t trust their recommendation, find another consultant and have them virtualize your systems, because the recommendation is a good one, but it’s a problem that you don’t trust your consultant!
The benefits of virtualization are numerous — reduced budgets, reduced carbon footprints, instant testing environments, 24/7 availability (if you can upgrade a copy of a server and then switch it back live, an advanced virtualization function).
There’s no need to rush it — it’s easier on the budget and the staff, as well as the environment, to replace standalone servers with virtualized ones as the hardware fails.
On the planning side, bigger networks do better by moving all of their data to a Storage Area Network (SAN) before virtualizing. This allows for even more flexibility and reduced costs, as servers are strictly operating systems with software and data is stored on fast, redundant disk arrays that can be accessed by any server, virtual or otherwise.

Session 3: Earth to Cloud

The cloud computing session focused a lot on comparisons. While the general concern is that hosting data with a third party is risky, is it any more risky than hosting it on our own systems? Which approach is more expensive? Which affords the most freedom to work with our data and integrate systems? How do we manage disaster recovery and business continuity in each scenario?

Security – Everyone is hackable, and Google and Salesforce have a lot more expertise in securing data systems than we do. So, from a “is your data safe?” perspective, it’s at least a wash. But if you have sensitive client data that needs to be protected from subpoenas, as well as or more than hackers, than you might be safer hosting your own systems.
Cost – We had no final answers; it will vary from vendor to vendor. But the cost calculation needs to figure in more than dollars spent — staff time managing systems is another big expense of technology.
Integration and Data Management – Systems don’t have to be in the same room to be integrated; they have to have robustAPIs. And internal systems can be just as locked as external if your contract with the vendor doesn’t give you full access and control over your data. This, again, was a wash.
Risk Management – There’s a definite risk involved if your outsourced host goes out of business. But there are advantages to being hosted, as many providers offer multiply-redundant systems. Google, in particular, writes every save on a Google Doc or GMail to two separate server farms on two different continents.
It all boils down to assessing the maturity of the vendors and negotiating contracts carefully, to cover all of the risks. Don’t sign up with the guy who hosts his servers from his basement; and have a detailed continuity plan in place should the vendor close up shop.
 If you’re a small org (15 staff or less), it’s almost a no-brainer that it will be more cost-effective and safer to host your email and data in the cloud, as opposed to running our own complex CRMs and Exchange servers. If you’re a large org, it might be much more complex, as larger enterprise apps sometimes depend on that Exchange server being in place. But, all in all, Cloud computing is a viable option that might be a good fit for you — check it out, thoroughly.

I’ll finish this thread up with one more post on budgeting and change management in the next few weeks.

NPTech Lineup Details

Details have come in for two exciting events in February:

On Thursday, February 4th, at 11:00 am Pacific/2:00 pm Eastern, don’t miss The Overhead Question: The Future of Nonprofit Assessment and Reporting. This panel discussion with represenatives from Charity Navigator and Guidestar will cover all of the questions I’ve been blogging about here. Join me with moderator Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy, Bob Ottenhoff of Guidestar, Lucy Bernholtz of Blueprint R & D, Christine Egger of Social Actions, David Geilhufe of NetSuite, and host Holly Ross of NTEN. Free registration is here.

And on Wednesday, February 10th, from 10:00 to 2:00 Pacific (1:00 to 5:00 Eastern), NTEN and the Green IT Consortium are putting on the first Greening Your IT Virtual Conference. With a plenary by Joseph Khunaysir of Jolera Inc. and six tactical sessions explaining how your org can benefit yourselves and the earth, including the one I’m co-presenting with Matt Eshleman of CITIDC on Server Virtualization.  Registration is $120, and it looks well worth it.

The NPTech Lineup

NPTech LogosIt’s time for another quick note on upcoming events and happenings in my nonprofit-focused life. These are spare on details, but I’ll be making noise as they finalize.

First, you’re looking at the newest Idealware board member. There’s still some paperwork to fill out, but this is a done enough deal that it’s worth mentioning here. I join at an exciting time, with our first book on the way; a new website about to be unleashed,  and the successful rollout of the Idealware Research Fund (which met it’s initial goal!).

Coming up in February is the Green IT Consortium/NTEN virtual conference on Greening your Technology. Matt Eshleman of CITIDC and I will be reprising the Server Virtualization session that we did at NTC last year. Mark down the date of February 10th, and look for details very soon, including after-conference get-togethers in SF and DC..

Also in February, but as yet not fully scheduled, I’ll be participating on an NTEN-sponsored panel with representatives of Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and the NPTech/Philanthropy community to discuss the upcoming changes in how these organizations assess nonprofits. I’ve been blogging about this potentially dramatic change in the way NPOs are assessed, along with the associated concerns, here and here.

April brings the big event: NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, 4/8 to 10, in Atlanta, Georgia this year.  I have a lot going on — I’m assembling a group of NTEN’s more technical presenters to lead the technology track, five sessions that will focus on the less trendy, but eternally critical tasks that nonprofit techs face daily: keeping the servers running (and virtualizing them); installing wireless; supporting computer use and planning and purchasing with little budget.  Our hope is that this track will not only impart a lot of useful information, but also serve as the introduction of a peer community for the front line NP techs. And I’ll be flying down early enough to participate in Day of Service and this year’s experimental unconference, where we’ll, among many other things, discuss how we standardize on shared outcome measurements and what that might look like.

The biggest challenge? Doing all this without breaking the stride on my work at Earthjustice, where I’m busy developing a case management system, installing email archiving software, deploying videoconferencing systems and prepping for Office 2007 and Document Management roll-outs, among other things; blogging weekly for the aforementioned Idealware; and spending as much quality time as I can get with my wonderful wife and kid. If you have any extra hours in the day to donate, send them here!

A Sane Proposal Regarding Climate Change

Blog Action Day

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is Climate Change. Here’s my pitch for an immediate step that could be taken to reduce the production of greenhouse gases significantly, while promoting good health; improving the economy in rural America; and reducing cruelty to animals. In fact, this suggestion is so logical that it’s a travesty that I have to suggest it. It makes Sarah Silverman’s recent hunger-ending proposal look paltry in comparison. Here’s my suggestion:

Close down Factory Farms.

Elininate Agri-Business.

The Humane Society reports that as much as 18% of all geenhouse gases are produced by agri-businesses. Agri-business practices increase air pollution, water pollution, and create general health risks.

The variety of public health concerns include Swine Flu, Diabetes and childhood cancer. As to our general health, the meat produced at these farms has doubled our intake of protein and contributed to the huge increase in obesity.

As if that isn’t enough, the healthier, sustainable family farms that once fed the nation have languished, destroying the economy in rural America. If the health of ourselves and our families, and that of our planet, weren’t enough, wouldn’t this be a case for dismantling this industry?

But, as the Humane Society points out, our lawmakers are giving Agri-business a free pass and stripping the EPA of their authority to regulate them. It’s the equivalent of the Tokyo police escorting Godzilla to the city. If we care about our future, we need to take drastic steps to contain the damage that we are doing to our planet. And we should start with the big, easy, bang for buck solutions. Like this one.

The Environmental Legacy of Woodstock

This post was originally published on the Earthjustice Blog in August of 2009.

Much is spoken about the legacy of Woodstock, the concert that defined a musical era, now celebrating a 40-year reunion. I came across this fascinating slideshow onTreehugger’s website, discussing the post-Woodstock environmental activities of some of the famous rock and folk musicians that performed there. While some might be skeptical as to how great a conference Woodstock was, discovering this 40-year history of environmental stewardship that followed speaks to the historic importance of the event.

The slideshow notes some fascinating environmental pursuits of classic 60’s artists. Here are some additional links and details on the musicians featured and their earth-friendly activities:

Joan Baez joined Julia Butterfly Hill in tree-sitting protests in support of community gardening.

Neil Young is a strong advocate for alternative fuels, who has not only re-invented his classic Lincoln Continental as an electric/biodiesel hybrid, but has also recorded a whole album about the subject.

The Grateful Dead joined Greenpeace in 1988 to save the rainforests. They were instrumental in founding the Slide Ranch, a teaching organic farm in Marin, County CA that introduces kids to the benefits of growing healthy foods.

Carlos Santana has incorporated solar panels into his business office and home. Like Young, he preaches what he practices, too.

Richie Havens has made teaching urban children about the environment a life’s cause, first with the Northwind Undersea Institute (now closed), a museum devoted to environmental information, and more recently with the Natural Guard.

Arlo Guthrie works with fellow folk legend Pete Seeger’s Hudson Sloop Clearwater, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the Hudson River. Guthrie also has a foundation that protects indigenous cultures from threats related to globalization.

Celebrating good music in healthy, open spaces is a legacy that we should leave for future rock fans. It’s nice to see that many of our greatest rock legends get that.