Can cloud computing stay green?

Data consumption under scrutiny

On one hand, organisations of all sizes are being urged to throw their data and operations into the cloud to radically boost their efficiency. On the other, they are being told to think about environmental sustainability and boosting their green credentials.

With the former trend involving such huge consumption of power and data, is this fundamentally incompatible with 'greenness'?

To find out, we put some questions to Peter Hopton, founder and CEO of server platform specialist Iceotope.

TechRadar Pro: Can the cloud really have good green credentials?

Peter Hopton: The cloud, which powers day-to-day things like social media, is a consumer of massive amounts of resources and the arguments for carbon abatement are weak. Ultimately this consumption is a result of the growth in the use of these resources by society.

Growth of data centres and cloud is significant, despite the industry doubling efficiency of delivering processing power every 18 months. However, some cloud computing data centres can use economies of scale to offer better effectiveness at delivering IT resource for less energy.

The biggest lie in cloud is that data centres can go anywhere. In reality, for real-time services, data doesn't travel that well - that's why we still see data centres being deployed in cities. Technologies such as total liquid cooling can help eliminate waste from data centres even at small scales, reducing wasted energy, reducing infrastructure and allowing the capture of waste heat.

TRP: Is a lack of universal metrics hampering the development of green data centres?

PH: There are lots of universal metrics out there and data centres have made great strides in the direction of better effectiveness at delivery of IT. The current barrier to efficiency is the separation between IT and data centre facilities, sometimes where they are different companies.

TRP: Businesses are focusing their efforts on their own IT green credentials, but are they properly factoring in the cloud services they use?

PH: If they were, every business would be using GreenQloud [https://www.greenqloud.com], which only sites its cloud services on 100% renewable energy grids. However, this is not the case, which leads me to believe that cloud services are often omitted from green IT evaluations for many organisations.

TRP: How easy is it for a company's corporate social responsibility to be damaged by its use of cloud computing that could in some instances be viewed as little more than greenwashing?

PH: Green is beginning to be viewed as a dirty word in the data centre market, with engineers preferring to adopt factual measures. It is therefore, risky to associate 'green-ness' with the use of cloud computing – which in itself is essentially laundering.

TRP: With the exponential growth in data, will data centres have to move to completely sustainable principles to remain viable into the future?

PH: That depends if the growth decreases just a little and if Moore's Law persists. Certainly energy costs are a big factor in delivering data, and detaching these from the costs of fossil fuel should be a priority.