Greenpeace was wrong: The cloud is good for the environment

An extensive report shows that U.S. cloud adoption has all but ended the increase in energy usage from private data centers

Greenpeace was wrong: The cloud is good for the environment

Cloud computing efficiency helps data centers reduce energy consumption across the United States, according to the new U.S. Data Center Energy Usage Report. The long and the short of it is data centers' electricity usage increased by only 4 percent from 2010 to 2014. This is a substantial improvement over the 24 percent uptick from 2005 to 2010, and a 90 percent jump from 2000 to 2005.

The report notes that data center energy usage should remain constant through 2020 (thanks to the cloud's influence), which is the best news out of this study. More important, it's a significant, fact-based repudiation of the alarmism we saw a year ago about the environmental consequences from the growth of the cloud.

As I pointed out last year (and many times before):

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.

I wrote that in response to a Greenpeace report calling into question the overall efficiency of public cloud providers, such as Google and Amazon Web Services. My reaction was that, instead of shaming cloud providers for not being green enough, Greenpeace should be shaming enterprises into moving to cloud. The more enterprises that make the move, the more efficient their compute systems will be. Fewer servers are needed to support the workloads and, thus, less power. The latest U.S. study shows it is in fact true.

I'm no futurist, but I'm not the only one to make these claims. This is simply logical thinking about how changing paths of computing consumption -- here, using public clouds -- will affect us.

We're getting better at sharing hardware, and that sharing will reduce power and stop us from building data centers that house underutilized resources. That's now the essence of cloud computing.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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