Environmental benefits

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Public cloud computing is often touted as an environmentally friendly or ‘green’ alternative to businesses owning their own IT infrastructures, but there are arguments for and against this claim. Sharing resources and commuting less must be a good thing, but if the enhanced technology that is available in public clouds causes businesses to use more resources together than the combined total they would have used apart then how can they be green?

Sharing resources

Some arguments for cloud computing being an energyefficient IT solution are:

  • customers share a pool of IT resources;
  • suppliers are using bigger, more modern and energyefficient data centres in purpose-built ‘smart’ buildings;
  • increased utilization of servers due to server virtualization – vendors claim that typical server utilization rates can rise from between 5 and 15 per cent to between 60 and 80 per cent (VMWare, 2010);
  • the financial incentives for cloud providers to use less energy;
  • the increasing availability of follow-the-sun and follow-the-moon clouds so virtual servers and applications move between linked data centres across time zones, making more use of the combined computing resources and even taking account of the availability of energy in different geographical locations at certain times of day.

Some arguments against cloud computing technologies being green are:

  • more internet traffic;
  •  increased data replication within public clouds;
  •  high demand created by new services.

According to a March 2010 Greenpeace report, Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change, the electricity consumed by cloud computing globally will increase from 623 billion kilowatt hours in 2007 to 1,964 billion kWh by 2020 (Greenpeace, 2010).

Now, the clock cannot be turned back, the cloud computing ‘genie’ cannot go back into the bottle. We have to accept that internet usage will increase along with the wider adoption of cloud computing services, but the rise of social networking websites has made this an inevitable trend anyway. All we can do is to make the technology we use to provide web-based services as green as possible, and cloud computing providers can certainly help. Along with many leading IT firms, Google and Microsoft are members of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (http://www.climatesaverscomputing.org/), which is a nonprofit group ‘dedicated to reducing the energy consumption
of computers and reducing the environmental impact of new and emerging technologies’, so let us hope they can rise to
the significant challenge that cloud computing represents.

Reduced travel

Naturally, cloud computing means that we no longer have to travel to an office to do office work, nor do our system
administrators have to go to data centres to install new servers. It is now much easier to work from home and many of us do already – in the UK, for example, at least 8 per cent of the workforce in 2005 used computers and  elecommunications to work mainly from home (Ruiz and Walling, 2005). If global warming is a reality, as most of the scientists of our time agree, then I would like to think that cloud computing or ‘cloud commuting’ will help to make most business travel unnecessary and reduce significantly the impact of business activities on the environment, but only time will tell. According to Viviane Reading, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media: ‘If businesses in Europe were to replace only 20 per cent of all business trips by video conferencing, we could save more than 22 million tons of CO2 per year’ (Donaghue, 2009).

tons of CO2 per year’ (Donaghue, 2009). I first wrote about ‘cloud computing commuters’ in my blog post of 19 February 2009, concluding it with speculation about their possible effect on cities:

I can predict with more confidence that, although there will always be value in face-to-face meetings, there will be far lesstime, money and energy wasted on commuting in the decade to come. London’s workforce will consist increasingly ofvirtual commuters, doing ever more complex business in the cloud. Whether London itself, or cities in general, will still be as important in the business world is another matter, and it may all depend on those cloud computing commuters.(Williams, 2009)