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Is cloud computing really green?

By Kukil Bora, SiliconIndia   |   Friday, 11 March 2011, 01:20 Hrs   |    1 Comments
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Is cloud computing really green?
Bangalore: Apart from its key advantages of increased efficiencies, scalability, redundancy and decreased costs, another significant concept that hails cloud computing today is its potential to operate business applications more efficiently, resulting in a potentially lower environmental impact. This is what makes cloud computing one of today's IT buzzwords, and there are studies to back this up.

A recent study, titled, "Cloud Computing and Sustainability" from Microsoft (with Accenture and WSP) compared the environmental footprint of running business software internally or with an outsourced provider. The study showed that, compared to running their own applications, by outsourcing companies can reduce the energy use and carbon footprint of computing by up to 90 percent. We could rattle off another dozen reasons why cloud computing should be greener. But is it really?

Network-based cloud computing is rapidly expanding as an alternative to conventional office-based computing. Not only this. Our day-to-day computing activities are also migrating from hard drives to Internet servers. Recently, Facebook came up with a statistic that shows how much new data enters cyberspace on a regular basis. According to the networking site's count, more than 100 million photos get uploaded to Facebook each day. As cloud computing becomes more widespread, the energy consumption of the network and computing resources that underpin the cloud will grow. Environmental groups are worried that the trend will result in a bigger carbon footprint.

At a time when there is increasing attention being paid to the need to manage energy consumption across the entire information and communications technology (ICT) sector, there has been less attention paid to the energy consumption of the transmission and switching networks that are key to connecting users to the cloud.

Going back to the Facebook example, data that is created and uploaded to websites like Facebook is stored at data centers. In order to keep these data warehouses running and comfortably air-conditioned to prevent overheating, uninterrupted power supply is a must. This can result in some heavy energy consumption. As of now, data centers are responsible for two percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and according to experts, the number will increase in near future.

However, there are companies telling that the growing trend towards cloud computing is making online computing more energy-efficient. An analysis of Pike Research has backed up some of these reported benefits, suggesting that a reduction in the cost of the energy of global data center can take place by up to 38 percent by 2020 because of the extremely efficient cloud computing. But, environmental groups and other skeptics still have doubts with regard to how green cloud computing can truly be.

According to a Gartner report that examined the carbon footprint of the ICT industry, environmentalists are concerned about the industry's apparent confusion with the difference between efficiency and sustainability. It says that companies need to recognize that energy efficient is not green on its own, and is no longer enough.

Another point to be noted here is none of the cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft or IBM are publishing metrics at all. Is it because companies using cloud computing are simply outsourcing their emissions? Until cloud providers start becoming more transparent around their utilization and consumption numbers, how green is cloud computing it is still a subject to debate.

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Reader's comments(1)
1: The real savings in energy comes from consolidating usage. A larger number of individual local servers are energy wasteful - when pooled in a shared and balanced cloud model, the efficiency of usage is multiplied - the more the local servers consolidated, the larger the savings.

One study [http://www.crn.in/Software-009Nov010-Can-Cloud-Computing-Cut-Carbon-Emissions.aspx ]by Microsoft focused on three Microsoft apps for e-mail, content sharing and CRM and found that the cloud version of those applications can significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Examining three distinct deployment sizes—100, 1,000 and 10,000 users—the study looked at the carbon footprint of server, networking and storage infrastructure and found that the smaller the company the larger the benefit of going with the cloud. When a 100 user organization moved to the cloud, the effective carbon footprint reduction could be up to 90 percent because of a shared cloud environment and no local servers.

Companies with 1,000 users had savings ranging from 60 percent to 90 percent. And large companies, had savings that was typically around 30 percent to 60 percent on energy consumption and carbon emissions for cloud applications.

Microsoft cited one large consumer goods company that reduced carbon emissions by 32 percent by moving 50,000 email users in North America and Europe to the cloud.

"As the data shows, the per-user carbon footprint is heavily dependent on the size of the deployment," the study indicated. "The cloud advantage is particularly compelling for small deployments, because a dedicated infrastructure for small user counts—as in a small business running its own servers—typically operates at a very low utilization level and may be idle for a large part of the day. However, even large companies serving thousands of users can drive efficiencies from the cloud beyond those typically found in on-premise IT operations."

According to the study, cloud computing enables reductions in energy use and carbon emissions by introducing dynamic provisioning, multi-tenancy, increase server utilization and data center efficiency.
Posted by:T A Balasubramanian - 11 Mar, 2011