Green Coding and IT Energy Consumption: Tackling Software Inefficiency

Green coding series Part 3
You can find part 1 here & part 2 here.

In our second blog post in the Green Coding series we delved into the critical aspects of energy consumption in modern software development. We explored strategies to minimise the environmental impact across three key areas: data centres and cloud services, data transmission paths, and end-user devices. 

Join us in this third post as we’ll delve deeper into the various forms of waste and inefficiency in software development, and explore strategies to address these issues. From redundant software to algorithmic inefficiencies, we’ll navigate through the maze of inefficiency and chart a course towards greener coding practices.

Back in the early days of computing, when resources were scarce, coding efficiency was a paramount concern. However, as computing power has grown exponentially, we’ve become complacent about energy efficiency in software development. This complacency has led to a multitude of inefficiencies that not only waste energy but also contribute to environmental degradation.

The Layers of Software Development

One of the striking transformations in software development over the years has been its shift towards layers and modularization. In the early days, every line of code was painstakingly written by hand. Today, we have libraries and pre-built routines available for nearly every imaginable task. This shift to modularity makes sense – it enhances quality, speeds up development, and accommodates the complexity of modern applications. However, it can also lead to intellectual laziness.

Redundant software: Let’s start by addressing a glaring issue – redundant software. If an application serves no purpose or is no longer relevant, it’s a waste of energy and resources. This often occurs with legacy systems or pre-installed applications that come with devices, serving no real value to the end-user. Identifying and eliminating such redundant software can significantly reduce energy consumption and free up resources for more essential tasks.

Improper use: Software, like businesses, evolves over time. Sometimes, software that once met a specific need becomes obsolete or is repurposed for something entirely different. While adapting existing software for new uses can be efficient, it can also lead to inefficiencies if the application doesn’t fully support the new purpose. Inefficiencies may arise from forced workarounds or inadequate customizations. Addressing this issue requires evaluating whether the software aligns with its current purpose and making necessary adjustments to avoid energy waste.

Wrong architecture: The architecture of an application shapes how efficiently it can perform tasks. Over time, as business requirements change, an application’s original architecture may become less suitable. This can force the application to perform tasks in unnecessarily complex ways, increasing energy consumption. It’s crucial to periodically assess and, if necessary, update an application’s architecture to align with current needs and optimise energy efficiency.

Wrong data models: Inefficient data models can lead to energy waste. Incomplete or poorly designed data models can result in excessive processing, retrieval, or manipulation of data. It’s essential to choose the right data model for the application’s needs and consider data deletion as a part of design to avoid accumulating unnecessary data that consumes energy in storage, backups, and transfers.

Algorithmic Inefficiency

While layers and architecture play a significant role in software efficiency, the algorithms and data structures employed can make or break a software application’s performance. Algorithmic inefficiencies can manifest in various ways:

Algorithmic inefficiency: Choosing the right algorithms and data structures is essential for efficient coding. While established languages and libraries usually offer optimised solutions, self-written or poorly chosen algorithms can be highly inefficient. Identifying high-activity areas in an application, whether through profiling or architectural analysis, allows for effective optimization prioritisation. Profiling helps pinpoint critical areas, even within application frameworks or libraries, where optimization efforts can make a substantial impact.

Inefficient programming languages: The choice of programming language can significantly impact software efficiency. Some languages are inherently more efficient due to their compilation processes and low-level nature, while others may introduce overheads that consume more energy. Developers must balance language preferences with practical considerations, such as library availability and project requirements.

Too much code: Modern applications often rely on a multitude of libraries and dependencies. While libraries can expedite development, they also introduce the potential for inefficiency. Unused or redundant code within libraries can lead to increased energy consumption during application downloads and updates. Developers should assess the necessity of libraries and remove or optimize unused code to reduce energy waste.

Users

Users are an integral part of any software system, but they can introduce inefficiencies through errors and unintended actions:

User errors: These mistakes trigger unnecessary actions within the application, leading to energy waste. However, a well-designed user interface and user experience can minimise errors and reduce the energy consumption associated with correcting them. Accessibility considerations, ensuring that the software accommodates various users’ abilities and needs, also contribute to energy efficiency.

Misleading users: Often driven by business objectives, misleading the user can result in unnecessary energy consumption. Dark patterns in user interfaces, intended to manipulate user behaviour, may lead to users navigating through the application more than necessary, increasing energy consumption. It’s essential to design user interfaces with clarity and transparency to prevent such inefficiencies.

In conclusion, addressing software inefficiency and reducing energy consumption in IT is a shared responsibility. Developers, businesses, and users all play vital roles in the journey towards greener coding practices. By identifying and eliminating waste, optimising code, and making informed choices in software development, we can collectively reduce the environmental impact of the IT industry. As awareness of green coding and energy-efficient software development grows, we can hope to see more stringent standards and requirements for environmentally friendly software in the future.

In part four of our series, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI has been making waves in the tech world, promising significant advancements while also raising concerns about its energy consumption. We’ll explore the realities of AI’s impact and the hidden energy costs associated with it. From the energy used during AI training and usage to understanding AI’s energy efficiency, we’ll provide insights that every tech enthusiast and developer should consider.

Interested in hearing more about Green ICT? Let’s connect ??

Thoughts by

Janne Kalliola

Chief Growth Officer

03.11.2023

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