The cloud is the greener way to go

Debate over the effect of cloud computing on the planet is ongoing, but between the cloud or a traditional data center, the better choice is clear

I live in Northern Virginia, near Ashburn. If you’ve ever driven down the Greenway, the toll road through Ashburn, you’ll get an idea of the number of data centers in town—hundreds, with more being built each year. Is this the fault of cloud computing?

It really depends on who is using those data centers. They are never labeled for security reasons, but I think for PR reasons as well.

According to this year’s State of the Data Center survey by AFCOM, the average number of data centers per company was about 12, expected to grow to 17 during the next three years. Among these companies, the average number of data centers slated for renovation is 1.8 this year and 5.4 during the next three years. The data center business is booming. 

These are for non-cloud, enterprise owned and operated data centers. I suspect they will also have underutilized racks of compute and storage that the enterprises have to maintain. This is the culprit of IT using too much power, typically by avoiding public cloud computing.

The truth is that public cloud computing allows for sharing of compute and storage resources much better than we can do ourselves. Even though it takes up data center space itself, public cloud computing really has a positive impact, considering that enterprises are able to avoid building or renting data centers themselves.

I suspect that the data center growth rates listed above are because enterprises are not considering cheaper and more efficient cloud computing alternatives. Instead they are taking the easy way out, building or renting more data center space as a stopgap. Moreover, enterprises are traditionally horrible at utilizing their own compute and storage capacity inside these data centers. Even using virtualization, you’ll find that the average utilization of a physical server is between three percent and seven percent—I’ve checked.

Of course, I’m making general statements of blame here, which may be unfair to some. Indeed, the companies building data centers argue that cloud computing is not always the answer or that special requirements exist, such as security or compliance. That’s the case sometimes, but I find that about 80 percent of the time these are excuses.

Is cloud computing green? It’s greener than building data centers for no good reason, which still seems to be the trend. I suspect that every square foot of a public cloud data center can replace 100 square feet of traditional enterprise data centers. That’s an easy sell for me, no matter if green means the planet or money in the bank.