Is your cloud green enough? That's the wrong question

If you want greener data centers, go after enterprise IT, not the cloud providers

The environment activist group Greenpeace recently ranked cloud providers' level of green, or environmentally positive, operations. Google got a grade of B for energy efficiency, while Amazon Web Services got a D.

Give it a rest! This dumb green argument has gone on since cloud providers started building data centers. The outcry was for them to build "green" data centers that use renewable energy, meaning wind, solar, hamsters on a wheel, you name it.

Although these efficiency ratings may feel good, they're a dubious, even misleading focus. After all, the report doesn't look at where the power comes from, so a "green" data center could easily be powered by dirty coal, while a less-efficient one could be powered by solar. And it doesn't account for the cloud's overall better energy efficiency, no matter the power source, versus most enterprise data centers.

AWS defended itself by stating the truth: "In response, rather than divulge additional details about the source of power for its massive cloud infrastructure, the company has argued that using the cloud is much more energy-efficient than customers powering their own data center operations."

What makes the cloud green is if enterprises stop building new data centers every time they run out of capacity, and instead turn to cloud providers. Enterprises spend millions of dollars each year adding data center infrastructure in support of many servers running at about 3 to 5 percent capacity. That wastes not only energy in usage, but also in the server's creation, plus a whole lot of raw materials, too.

Simply using public clouds is a huge step in the green direction. By sharing servers, we can do much more with much less -- including power.

Instead of shaming cloud providers for not being green enough, Greenpeace should be shaming enterprises into moving to cloud. That would have a much greater positive impact on the environment than focusing solely on the cloud providers.

The reality is that IT does not think in terms of efficiency. If it did, enterprises would already be in the cloud.

Instead, in IT's attempt to keep up with demand over the last 30 years, it meant building or leasing data center space, adding power, and hoping nobody noticed. With the cloud on the radar, IT's response has been massive resistance to the move, mostly centered around control and fear. In getting the kind of change we need, those factors are much more important to address than the green factor.

The truth is simple: The more enterprises shift to the public cloud, the greener they will become.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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