How Green Is the Cloud?

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Energy-saving Practices Cut Energy Consumption by 2.7 Million Kilowatt-hours

How green is the cloud? The answer may be a bit more complicated than many believe considering the enormous complexity that the technology brings to data center environments and IT's ability to manage and monitor them.

At first blush, the cloud would seem a net benefit to the environment. The ease with which data can be shifted to available resources allows enterprises to find the most efficient means to handle current loads. Over-provisioning and the maintenance of costly infrastructure are greatly lessened, and managers can easily seek out the lowest energy costs to handle low-level tasks like non-critical batch processing.

True enough, but that's assuming that the resources you provision in the cloud are, in fact, more efficient than the ones you operate at home, argues economics blogger Anna Young. While everyone has a vested interest in keeping costs low, the cloud's distributed architecture makes it very difficult to accurately gauge true energy consumption for any given organization. For example, the new CO2 estimates from firms like Samsung and Intel rightly factor in their entire supply chains rather than just internal infrastructure. Their numbers shot up even though their overall emissions may or may not have gone down. We just can't tell.

Even when energy efficiency is a high priority for consumers of hosted services, actually finding them is a real challenge. According to a survey by data center design consultants CoreNet Global and Newmark Knight Frank, more than half of corporate data executives say compliance with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards is a high priority for owned or leased data center capacity, yet only 5 percent see it as crucial for data center site selection. At the moment, however, only 6 percent say they outsource their entire data environment to the cloud, while nearly a quarter report no cloud activity at all, so there is still time to work out effective cloud-based environmental monitoring protocols if the industry is so inclined.

Meanwhile, new power and cooling systems are starting to hit the channel with cloud operations in mind. Emerson Network Power has released a new version of its Liebert platform that incorporates a floor-mounted water cooling solution said to be more responsive to the shifting data loads of virtual and cloud environments. The system includes a new version of the EC Fan featuring high-efficiency filters, as well as the same iCOM algorithms found in the SmartAisle solution to help direct cooling to active hardware.

As well, Schneider Electric has unveiled a new modular power and cooling design intended to match the modular approach that much of the new cloud infrastructure has adopted. The units scale in 500 kW increments, providing a quick and easy way to implement focused service as new hardware resources are provisioned. The boxes are hot-swappable and feature a high-efficiency UPS and a segregated battery room. They also incorporate free cooling capable of operating from -25 to 50 degrees C.

In a macro sense, it seems obvious that the cloud will produce a net gain in IT energy efficiency, but to exactly what extent is unclear. Distribution of data loads also means distribution of the responsibility for ensuring clean and efficient operations.

Without broad industry cooperation, we'll never know the truth of the matter, and it will be very difficult to locate and correct any inefficiencies that remain.

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