Google fesses up to cloud energy consumption

Summary:The operational disclosure is notable, as mega-huge high-tech companies from Microsoft to HP to IBM vie to becoming leaders in the cloud computing movement.

Finally, the world's biggest Internet services operator has disclosed just how much power it takes to run all those servers -- a number that it has been loathe to disclose previously, despite its otherwise impressive green-tech credentials.

The disclosure marks an important turning point for the high-tech industry: as many companies aspire to win out in the cloud services movement -- Cisco, IBM, Dell, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are just a few of the companies drooling after Google's marketshare -- the ability to manage electricity consumption and energy-efficiency will be a critical operational measure.

The number: Google reports that in 2010 year, it used 2.6 million 260 megawatt-hours of electricity. Most of that amount went to run its massive data center footprint, which it figures uses less than 1 percent of the world's electricity generation (according to an independent report). The company generated approximately 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions during that year.

Even Google has been mum publicly about its consumption, it has been doing something about it for years (Psssst. Google's data center efficiency secrets. Pass them on.) For example, its investments in renewable energy technologies probably are creating about 1.7 gigawatts of renewable power capacity. Between those investments and its carbon offset purchases, Google figures its impact is carbon-neutral.

A post on the Google blog details how the company is opening the kimono on its electricity consumption. The blog notes:

"We started the process of getting to zero by making sure our operations use as little energy as possible. For the past decade, energy use has been an obsession. We've designed and built some of them most efficient servers and data centers in the world -- using half the electricity of a typical data center."

Energy-efficiency measures of this sort will be important not just from the point of view of the green-minded among us, but because as more infrastructure technology becomes consumed as a service, the ability of a cloud service provider to be the most energy-efficient in its class will become a margin and cost advantage. So least you think this is all about environmental bleeding hearts, think again. Your procurement team will be looking at this stuff.

Facebook, in face of criticism from environmental activist group Greenpeace, is also hard at work on its data center energy-efficiency through something called the Open Compute Project (Want to be as energy-efficient as Facebook? There's a spec for that).

According to a ranking published earlier this year by Greenpeace, Google isn't quite the greenest cloud provider, at least from a coal-intensity point of view. According to that ranking, Yahoo!, Amazon and Microsoft perform better than Google on that measure.

Frankly, I don't care whether Google or Facebook is greener, fundamentally speaking. But I do care that that this issue is finally getting the attention it requires.

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Topics: Innovation, Google


Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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