Is cloud computing really killing the planet?

A recent report by Greenpeace calls cloud computing out for its carbon footprint. Here's why it's wrong

A recent report from Greenpeace states that the proliferation of devices that use the "cloud," such as the new Apple iPad, could be killing the planet: "The report finds that at current growth rates, data centers and telecommunication networks, the two key components of the cloud, will consume about 1,963 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2020, more than triple their current consumption and over half the current electricity consumption of the United States -- or more than France, Germany, Canada, and Brazil combined."

Greenpeace states that it wants people to think about where all of this cloud stuff is leading: "It points to the use of dirty energy in the IT sector, namely by Facebook, which recently announced the construction of a data center that will run primarily on coal."

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I was told cloud computing was green, so what gives? The fact of the matter is that reports such as this fail to consider the shift in processing from on-premise to shared computing centers. Indeed, Greenpeace just focused on the impact of the new data centers being built to support the cloud, and not the end result of them moving some existing enterprises processing to shared public clouds. Moreover, Greenpeace didn't consider the impact of efficiencies driven around private cloud computing.

While I'm not somebody who sells the cloud as green, once all is said and done we'll be doing more with less when using cloud computing, and that includes using less energy. The use of multitenancy and virtualized systems optimize how we use computing resources, which means less power for each unit of work -- to me, that's green. Sorry, Greenpeace. Moreover, the new data centers use power systems and cooling mechanisms that are much more efficient than the ones found in older data centers -- that's green, too. Sorry again, Greenpeace.

Of course, I'm not alone in this thinking. Alex Steffen states, "Sounds scary, right? Except when you actually look up the numbers. ... The global IT industry as a whole generates about 2 percent of global CO2 emissions," a number he cites from the United Kingdom's Times Online. Steffen argues that targeting trendy technologies may pull an audience, but "if Greenpeace really wants to get up in people's grill about something that needs to change, it should start with its cars."

In other words, focus on something else. IT is moving in the right direction here.

This article, "Is cloud computing really killing the planet?," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and follow the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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