Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cloud Washing Goes Green(Peace)

Telling you that many in the technology industry have recently been engaged in what has been described as "Cloud Washing" -- or the attempt to ride a surge in interest found in anything relating to Cloud Computing (or with a cloud logo) may not come as a surprise. Adding to the noise is everyone's favorite environmental watch dog Greenpeace with a new report released earlier today titled "Make IT Green - Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change".

Before I comment let me make a few things clear.
1. I do want make sure the earth remains livable long after I'm gone from it.
2. Being environmentally friendly is not a chore, but an obligation we all share.
3. Economic Growth is good and should enable those fortunate enough to accommulate some weath the ability to help improve the lives of all people rich or poor.
4. As an entrepreneur I have an obligation to my family, myself and my shareholders to do whatever I can to accomulate as much monitary value as possble.
5. The previous 4 points are not mutually exclusive.
So back to the report.

To put it bluntly, it's logic is flawed. If' I'm reading this report right, which I may not be. The growth of the cloud computing is what makes it enharently less enivormentally friendly. In a nutshell it's our very success that makes cloud not so good for the enivornment.

Let me point out a few gems from the report;

"Cloud Computing is growing at a time when climate change and reducing emissions from energy use is of paramount concern. With the growth of the cloud, however, comes an increasing demand for energy. For all of this content to be delivered to us in real time, virtual mountains of video, pictures and other data must be stored somewhere and be available for almost instantaneous access. That ‘somewhere’ is data centres - massive storage facilities that consume incredible amounts of energy." > Agreed

Next up Facebook vs. Yahoo

"For example, in January 2010, Facebook commissioned a new data centre in Oregon and committed to a power service provider agreement with PacificCorp, a utility that gets the majority of its energy from coal-fired power stations, the United States’ largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Effectively becoming an industrial-scale consumer of electricity, Facebook now faces the same choices and challenges that other large ‘cloud-computing’ companies have in building their data centres. With a premium being placed on access to the cheapest electricity available on the grid. In many countries, this means dirty coal."

They go on to point out.. "other companies have made better decisions for siting some of their data centres. Yahoo!, for instance, chose to build a data centre outside Buffalo, New York, that is powered by energy from a hydroelectric power plant - dramatically decreasing its carbon footprint. Google Energy, a subsidiary of cloud leader Google, applied and was recently approved as a regulated wholesale buyer and seller of electricity in the United States, giving it greater flexibility as to where it buys its electricity to power its data centres."

Now let me put on my Gordon Gekko hat for a moment. -- Growth is Good, Growth Works, Growth for lack of better term works -- Do you actually think the Google, Yahoo and others were able to grow to the size they are today using green data centers? No way, they did it the same way every other company does, using the power and energy sources they had available at the least cost to them. Yep, Coal. Sure, after you go public and have billions of dollar available it's easy to go put on your Green Hat. But being competitive, specially as a newer player in the business scene means you don't have luxury of having billions of dollars to play with. In order to have this kind of money at your disposal you must first grow. Grow your user base, grow your revenue and grow your profits. Greenpeace is completely forgetting what allowed Google and Yahoo to get to the point they are at today and instead expect everyone to be on some kind of bizarre equal footing which isn't possible.

The report is also full of interesting numbers, which to me are pretty much, well numbers. Here's one of the more interesting ones "PC ownership will quadruple between 2007 and 2020 to 4 billion devices, and emissions will double over the same period, with laptops overtaking desktops as the main source of global ICT emissions (22%)"

I do agree with some of the report, in particular "More cloud-computing companies are pursuing design and siting strategies that can reduce the energy consumption of their data centres, primarily as a cost containment measure. For most companies, the environmental benefits of green data design are generally of secondary concern."

Regardless of whether or not you call it Cloud Computing or just computing. This trend toward data center centric or Internet centric computing isn't new. It's been a long time coming. And if anything the move away from traditional desktop centric computing to network based alternatives consolidates computing resources from a broader heterogeneous distributed group of users with little or no control over power consumption to a more central point of energy consumption. Let me put it another way, those 10 million people who never turn their desktops off are not green either. But a data center that is optimized and has it in their best interest to save a buck by making their infrastructure "Green" is much more likely to do so. Not for the sake of saving the planet, but for the sake of of making more money.

At the end of the day, although the report's logic is generally flawed, the rationale for the report is not. The environment is important. I can't argue with that. The document is definitely worth the read.

#DigitalNibbles Podcast Sponsored by Intel

If you would like to be a guest on the show, please get in touch.