Cloud providers' green claims are full of smoke

Ironically, their focus on touting use of alternative energy sources obscures how they really go green

You can't get through a month without hearing a group of cloud providers tell us how green their clouds are by using alternative energy sources instead of carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Although I'm sure they're taking steps to reduce the amount of carbon emissions their new data centers put out, just the fact of data centers the size of a large airport seems counterintuitive to the "green" claim.

Last week, for example, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a panel of cloud providers crowing about how they've forced power companies to switch to non-fossil-fuel sources: "By strong-arming power companies -- for business, not necessarily altruistic, reasons -- name-brand tech giants like Google, Rackspace, and Facebook can claim significant portions of their power comes from renewable sources like wind, hydro, and solar."

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These days, being green is politically correct as well as cost-efficient. I get that. However, cloud providers that continue to pat themselves on the back by running alternative-energy-powered data centers are beginning to irk me. It doesn't matter much if the power to the data centers come from wind, solar, or a guy peddling a fusion generator.

When it comes to being green, what matters is using less power -- not making sure that 5 percent of your power comes from a windmill. Cloud data centers use much less power to serve the same number of customers than those customers' own data centers used -- leading to an order of magnitude greater in emissions than merely switching to non-fossil energy sources.

In other words, going cloud is going green -- the same efficiency that reduces costs also ups its green cred. You're reducing energy usage in a way that matters. You're saving money, too. Powering those energy-saving data centers with non-fossil-fuel sources is great, but that's a little icing on the big cake.

I wish that cloud providers would show us they're actually saving huge amounts of energy by being more efficient than the computing they've replaced. Otherwise, they're obscuring the true green value with their emissions-oriented smoke.

This article, "Cloud providers' green claims are full of smoke," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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