Cloud Computing and the Green Revolution: Is "the Cloud" Green?
Is Cloud Computing GOING GREEN?! I thought we could get your attention by starting off this post two of today's biggest buzzphrases: "Going Green" and “Cloud Computing.” Every company these days love to brag about how they are "utilizing the Cloud," and everybody and their mother can't wait to say how they are "going green." As if, now that you have started using reusable shopping bags, Mother Nature herself is going to give you a big hug. Hummer increases the gas mileage on their H2 from 15mpg to 16.4mpg and they are shouting from the hilltops that they are "going green." Whoop-dee-do.
So what do these two have in common? Can the Cloud Buzz Blog create the most buzzworthy blog post ever by tying together today's biggest buzzwords? Probably not. However, the commonalities and connections between the two are noteworthy, and the sustainability and "green-ness" of cloud computing has become a hot ticket debate item amongst IT professionals, scientists, green activists, etc. I'll hand the mic over to Bo to discuss the connection. I'll warn you that his explanation is a bit long-winded, but very interesting and worth the read:
On one side of the spectrum, people praise cloud computing as a huge step in green business. Businesses who have their own data centers may not realize it, but their servers are guzzling energy unnecessarily. Think of it like this, a company owning a data center is kind of like the guy who owns a Lamborghini Murcielago LP640. Beautiful car, top of the line everything, runs great, runs dependably, and runs fast. Do they really care or notice that it's getting 8 miles to the gallon? Nope. They aren't paying attention to the money they are throwing into the gas tank, but most likely that same guy is trying to pinch pennies in another way. That's the typical business's attitude towards its data center. The data centers and servers must be prepared to handle double the highest amount of requests or traffic at any given time; traffic can unexpectedly double or triple a matter of minutes. To prepare, companies power much more server volume than needed at all times.
What about data management? Between backups, duplicates, and fail-safes that are always running (but not always getting use), there is a high quantity of wasted energy being pulled from the grid. Now imagine a room full with all these machines constantly putting out heat as they run, all of which have to stay below 65 degrees or they will cook themselves. Essentially these space heaters keep firing away while companies blow money on the electrical bill for air-conditioning and cooling in this ever-waging war of temperature control. Up to $3000 can be spent on one server rack: roughly half for power, and half for cooling. Oh and don't forget… after all this energy has been pulled for power and cooling, a data center is running at less than 25% of its available capacity. Seems like a very inefficient and poorly run system right? And how does this play in to the big picture? From 2000 to 2005, servers in Europe and the US were responsible for nearly 2/3's of the world's energy consumption!
The costs are largely uncontrolled, and they are masked so that organizations often have no idea how much energy they are really consuming. No one looks for a solution to a problem they don't know exists. So let's propose a solution, one that combines our notorious buzzwords:
Instead of running on their own wasteful hardware, companies could outsource and operate out of the cloud on someone else's servers. This eliminates almost all the unnecessary spending and energy wasting. Organizations can run on virtual servers, and when more capacity is needed, a new virtual machine can simply be created. When operating from the cloud there is no capital investment for hardware, cost of maintenance, and no need to wastefully consume energy on backup and emergency servers that spend their days idling. Instead, if a server fails a new virtual server is automatically recreated and a central cloud provider can be more efficient with their use of server bandwidth. Data is always backed up in the cloud, software never gets out of date, and the only charge is an hourly fee for using the servers. Companies who have switched to Amazon's EC2 have found their running costs dropped by 80%.
With all these benefits, why would one question the sustainability or efficiency of the cloud? Well, critics take into account the externalities of moving to the cloud. Since you are not operating on your own servers, you are operating on servers somewhere else and therefore some believe you just took your trash and threw it in the neighbor's back yard. Your immediate carbon footprint may look smaller but critics argue that the size hasn't changed at all, you've just made it someone else's problem. There are a number of different arguments used to further the contest but those involve skepticism around cloud security, not sustainability.
The reality of the situation, as the Five Percent blog points out, is that by outsourcing servers to those who have better resources to handle it, you are actually reducing your carbon footprint. Normal servers are never really taxed to capacity. Data centers that provide cloud computing use "virtualization," a process that allows servers to perform multiple jobs through the virtual servers and machines we discussed earlier. The reason this is so much more efficient is that virtual servers can handle all the work of a basic server, but the actual physical server running the virtual one can provide multiple virtualized servers and machines at a time. Since a server uses just about the same amount of power when it's idling as it is working, these cloud providers are efficient at making sure a physical server is working at its maximum capacity before firing up or buying a new one. The EPA reported that the postal service, by using virtualization, was able to cut down the number of servers they needed from 895 to 104. Wow.
Centralizing data requirements in massive data centers also improve efficiency and sustainability. Instead of multiple inefficient unsustainable server rooms and data centers around the world wasting money and energy, localizing all the physical machines gives room to make one highly efficient and green data center. Data centers around the world are making their facilities more sustainable through a number of methods. They are using techniques that cool the areas around the servers as opposed to the entire room, they are building data centers in cooler locations to draw in air from outside and chill water for a water economization loop, and some are even building photo voltaic cells on the roofs of their data centers (massive buildings, massive surface areas on the roofs, perfect places for solar panels).
So is cloud computing green? The jury is out and probably will be until the cloud is unanimously embraced, but we believe that the cloud is green if the provider is responsible. We at Sonian know for a fact the Amazon Web Services EC2 is efficient and responsible, so why not move to the cloud?
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