You can't improve things if you don't think twice about them, and you can't come up with better ideas unless you can see the drawbacks of the existing ones.

Neda Nasiri

Cloud computing doesn't really take place in the clouds; it's rooted in a sprawling network of power-hungry data centers that now suck up as much as 2 percent of the total energy consumption of the United States.

As companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft continue building these centers at a breakneck pace, Bucknell computer science professor Neda Nasiriani says it's imperative that these companies make their centers more sustainable, both for the environment and their own profitability. Her scholarship examines how both operators and users of cloud computing can do so through onsite renewable energy generation, battery power storage and smart pricing models.

"My work shows how the cloud can engage its customers through more intelligent and usage-based pricing, achieving both energy efficiency and profit maximization," she explains.

It's an issue that few consider when thinking about the future of computing, Nasiriani says, but also one that's sure to become more pressing as traditional energy sources become more scarce and costs rise, and as more and more companies move to the cloud. In her classroom, Nasiriani challenges students to consider these behind-the-scenes realities as they learn about the cloud and other cutting-edge technologies, and to avoid blindly accepting the status quo.

"You can't improve things if you don't think twice about them, and you can't come up with better ideas unless you can see the drawbacks of the existing ones," she says. "I encourage creativity, and for students to explore other methods of doing things that might be even better than the existing ones."

Her approach might be uncommon in computer science, where so much is guided by fundamental principles and builds incrementally on what came before, but Nasiriani wants her students to stretch their limits and "deal with problems that seem really huge and unreachable, and then try to make them reachable.

"If you are being challenged at a high level, you can't avoid failure sometimes, but that is not the problem," she says. "The problem is when we haven't learned how to deal with that, how to learn from it, and how to grow. It's very important for students to learn that."

Posted September 2018