Google fesses up to cloud energy consumption

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.

Related posts:

Topics: Emerging Tech, Google

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  • What do you care about??

    I'm confused; you don't care who's green, but you DO care that it's being talked about?
    Why bother caring if you don't care about it?
    • RE: Google fesses up to cloud energy consumption

      @tappette I think you misread the article. What was said was "I don?t care whether Google or Facebook is greener"

      In other words Heather doesn't care out of the 2 companies which one is greener that the other. What she cares about is that finally the figures are being released and that's a good thing because it will force all similar businesses to release their figures.

      The companies that do not release figures freely will be the ones who are not as green as the ones that do release their figures freely so it will force them to do something about it. Hopefully.

      I think this is a great initiative and welcome public disclosure of these figures so others are forced to do the same. Openness of information such as this will surely make the world a better place :-)
      • but not everybody or every business can afford to be green

        sure maybe the really big guys can, but what about smaller businesses?
        William Farrell
  • Small Businesses Can Be Green Too

    In my report Cloud Computing Energy Efficiency, which I wrote for Pike Research, the point was made very clearly that small businesses can be made green too by adopting the cloud.
    • How green is my pasture?

      @bruce@... How does pushing your data off to someone else make you greener? You're just moving the cost to someone else. Admittedly, they may be more energy efficient than you, but there are steps you can take to improve your footprint.
  • I can't think of any datac enter running cheaply

    Face it, it takes power and cooling to run these joints, so no matter what, they're costly. I find this story more amusing than revealing. It costs to do business. Surprise!
  • You can scratch HP, Microsoft and IBM

    HP -> They make and sell hardware, practically all their software is utter cr@p (I happened to be dealing with some today at my job)

    IBM -> Body shop (aka India), patent machine and funding "Gee Whiz" projects like a computer that plays on Jeopardy TV show (aka "Feel Good" marketing projects). IBM doesn't know squat about operating massive cloud computing data centers.

    Microsoft -> Windows (clients), Directory Services (AD) and Office. Considering Amazon is approaching $1 billion in sales with its Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft won't reveal Azure client counts, what else needs to be said.
    • IBM

      @betelgeuse68 I see the Watson project as much more than a feel good stunt. This computer is actually able to understand vague points of human language (just look at what kind of clues you get on Jeopardy) and come up with good answers, well most of the time anyway. This is technology that will prove very valuable in moving to real AI. What applications this may find can only be imagined right now. Ways to use this technology that haven't even been considered yet will show up. It's been that way with most technology innovations.

      BTW, I like your star.
  • Carbon offsets...

    This is the one that really annoys me. I'm not getting at Google, or the others here, but the Carbon Offsets disguise just how good or bad a company really is. Producing too much CO2 or using too much electricity from non-renenwable sources? Problem solved, buy some "peace of mind" Offsets. Bleh!

    That the offset is used to make the end result better, that globally the GHG output is reduced is fine. But a companies green performance should done pre-offsets. "Nice that you are buying offsets, but how did you actually perform?"
  • 260 Megawatt-hours for a whole year?! Check that number

    Please check that number again. If this is for the whole 2010, this means they consume 29kW per hour - or the equivalent of 30 toasters (260,000,000/365/24 = 29,680). It's gotta be a bit more than that...
  • less than 1% is less than 0.01% of the world's generated power

    ...according to the link provided in the post. That's a 100 times difference.