Cloud computing finally getting green cred

Many have villainized the rise of cloud computing as a major carbon emitter, but the truth should not surprise most cloud pros

Cloud computing finally getting green cred

A new study found that the computing output of data centers jumped six fold from 2010 to 2018, but their energy consumption rose only six percent. The findings refute concerns that the rise of mammoth data centers would generate a surge in electricity demand, and thus carbon output has been greatly overstated.

I think back to many panel debates on the green-ness of cloud computing. Those arguing that cloud computing would warm the planet were legion compared to others, like myself, who argued the contrary.

The major force behind the improved efficiency is the shift to cloud computing. Why? In a word: sharing. 

No longer are we running servers at three to five percent capacity, since the multitenant capabilities of public cloud services are able to share compute and storage resources in ways that are 100 times more energy efficient. 

Environmentalists see data center after data center going up in areas like northern Virginia, where I live. Most data centers consume more power than a small town; however, that could be misleading.

It’s really not the number of data centers that matters, it’s their efficiency through resource sharing. Some corporate data centers run at low capacity but still require that the servers be up and running, consuming power. These are the problem children in the world of data centers, and they are often owned by companies that have yet to move significant assets to public SaaS or IaaS clouds. From a green perspective, it’s safe to say that the organizations that have not yet migrated to public clouds are the major carbon emitters. 

Of course, there could be solid reasons for not migrating, but as cloud computing matures, most of those, such as security fears, have fallen by the wayside. One can argue that cloud-based tech is getting most of the R&D love these days, so it’s where the innovation and value delivery is occurring. The tech companies have redirected their resources to public clouds at the expense of traditional platforms.

This is not to cast blame—it’s never that binary. This is about considering the current realities and making decisions with the best information. Hopefully that will include more sharing and less power consumption.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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