First some facts about the current state of energy consumption in the world
of Cloud Computing.
Gartner’s Data Center conference offers
- A standard 9,000 square foot, Tier 3 data center that supports 150 watts per
square foot will cost approximately $21.3 million to build, with $1 million in
annual electrical costs.
- Green IT practices can more than halve the power costs of running a data
- An aggressively "green" enterprise will pay $560,000 in annual electrical
expenses for a data center with a 500 kilowatt IT load. Enterprises with archaic
data center practices will pay as much as $1.3 million.
- In a conventional data center, 35% to 50% of electrical energy is devoted to
cooling. With best practices, that proportion is reduced to 15%.
In an article about Cloud Computing and Environment, The
Economist points out to the following dark fact. (Emphasis is mine).
They are huge energy hogs: in America alone, according to the country’s
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), data centres already account for 1.5% of
And this figure is growing. Data centres consumed 0.6% of the world’s
electricity in 2000, and 1% in 2005. Globally, they are already responsible for
more carbon-dioxide emissions per year than Argentina or the Netherlands,
according to a recent study by McKinsey, a consultancy, and the Uptime
Institute, a think-tank. If today’s trends hold, these emissions will have grown
four-fold by 2020, reaching 670m tonnes. By some estimates, the carbon
footprint of cloud computing will then be larger than that of
In fact, these datacenters consume more power than some of the world’s fastest
The problem then will be building the computer without needing a nuclear
reactor to power it. IBM’s Roadrunner, the fastest supercomputer in the world,
used to simulate mushroom clouds by Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico, was
the first to break the petaflop barrier, at 1 trillion computations per second.
It eats 2.5 megawatts of power. And that’s nothing compared with the giant data
centers being built around the world by the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard,
Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft. The biggest of these consumes 250
What we are facing here is not a simple problem which we can shrug off as
collateral damage. It is a problem that could drag down the Cloud Computing
industry like the current day aviation industry. If it is ignored, the big
three of cloud computing could face the same fate faced by the big three in
Detroit today. The only way to avoid any government regulations on energy usage in data centers is by self regulating the industry on our own. Sorry for the rant-like exaggeration but the situation is
serious and we need fast solutions.
Let us explore the possible advantages of pursuing Green Technologies. First, any energy savings in the datacenter operations means less Op-ex for
enterprises and SaaS providers. Second, less Op-ex for enterprises and SaaS
providers, in turn, means further cost savings for Cloud Computing customers who are already enjoying considerable savings in Cloud Computing due to factors like
multi-tenancy, etc.. Finally, any attempt to extend the life of the planet for
human habitation means that the fruits of our entrepreneurship can live well beyond
our own life. If you also consider the possibility of mushroom like growth of a new business field based entirely on Green Technologies, we have a win-win reason to spend
our mind and resources on fixing the above said energy problem.
I do agree that companies like IBM, Microsoft, Google, etc., are spending
money on lowering the energy costs. Google is trying to float their datacenters
on the ocean waters, Intel is trying to see if they can use outside
air for datacenter cooling, Microsoft is trying to setup an economical datacenter
inside a tent, Iceland is trying to lure different companies to invest
in datacenters there (Also, read this good Business
Week article on the topic), etc. All these attempts are pretty good and some
of them will definitely lead to significant breakthroughs. But, there is a real
danger of such breakthrough research getting locked up within a smaller number of
companies due to their patents. Plus, these patented results, while resulting in
Greener Technologies, will not offer the cost savings, expected with the adaption
of such technologies, to other cloud vendors.
There is an opportunity for us to get both the Green Technologies and the
associated cost savings. We could tap into the vast expertise of academic
community whose hands are tied due to drying up of research grants. If Cloud
Computing vendors, both the giants as well as the mom and pop kind, come
together and start a Global Green Computing Fund, we can, then, fund various
research projects in the laboratories of our academic institutions, tapping some
of the best minds available there. This could result in newer technologies for
reducing the energy costs for all the cloud computing vendors instead of just the elite few. It is time for
evangelists and vendors to think about such a fund and how it can benefit Cloud
Computing as a whole. Companies like Google and Microsoft can also benefit from
this fund by diverting just a portion of what they spend on Green Computing
Well, this might sound more like an overambitious effort for social good but
I, mainly, see the cost savings for Cloud Computing vendors with very little
investment from their side. I am not a global player who could kick start such
an effort. I am just throwing out this idea in open to see if it picks up
steam, at least, with the pundits and evangelists of Cloud Computing. Feel free
to add your comments on the viability of this idea.
Related articles by
- Cloud Computing
Unites Yahoo, HP, Intel
Energy Diet for Power-Hungry Household PCs
aims to lighten the (energy) load at data centers
environmental impact of cloud computing
the Global Data-Center Carbon Footprint
considers moving to boats
Cut datacenter power with bureaucracy, green tech
launches Green Code of Conduct for Data Centers
departments waste energy, U.K. survey finds
Data Centers Face Energy Crisis
Officials to Data Centers: Get Greener!