Adopt 'right balance' for green clouds

Instead of just sourcing for clean energy, cloud vendors should adopt holistic approach toward greening data centers by educating their employees and monitoring energy efficiency, an analyst suggests.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor on

Cloud computing service providers should look into having a "right balance" approach in giving their data centers a green makeover by redesigning it to include eco-friendly energy sources and educating employees on the benefits of reducing their carbon footprint, an analyst urged.

Philip Carter, associate vice president of green IT and sustainability at IDC Asia-Pacific's practice group, said that there are several aspects toward moving a green cloud computing service.

Internally, these aspects include designing the data center to utilize renewable energy sources, implement ongoing monitoring of the energy efficiency such as the PUE (power usage effectiveness) ratio, and ensuring organizational alignment in which employees are aware and educated on the company's green initiatives and technologies, he explained in his e-mail.

With these measures in place, the company can then market its cloud services as eco-friendly to not just prospective and existing customers but to its investors as well, he added.

This holistic, "right balance" approach is necessary to keep in mind when revamping one's data center to reduce carbon footprint without impacting the level of service delivered to internal or external users, Carter said.

The analyst's comments come after a Greenpeace report revealed that servers in data centers are predominantly running on "dirty", non-renewable energy such as coal. This contradicts how cloud computing is being touted as a green IT model for its greater energy efficiency due to higher server utilization shared among several end-users, it noted.

The environment watchdog's report, released on Apr. 21, based its findings on the energy sources and consumption involved in the storing and transmitting of data among 10 global IT companies, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo. However, it did concede that its findings were gleaned from "limited" information available and attributed this to a "lack of transparency across the IT industry about its own greenhouse gas footprint".

However, Vernon Turner, senior vice president of global sustainability research at IDC, disagreed. He said that the CIO's top concern in running data centers is the cost of energy, and if the operational method used increases utilization, then it will "naturally be eco-friendly", regardless whether fossil fuels were used.

"Done right, cloud adoption should have the reverse impact on the environment, as utilization metrics should [get] better," he argued.

Green clouds possible
Currently, only a handful of technology companies stand out for taking steps to grapple with the problem of powering their services with clean, renewable energy sources such as Google and Yahoo, noted Daniel Kessler, communication manager at Greenpeace International. Others such as Facebook have made decisions that will increase its demand for coal power, he added in his e-mail interview.

Yahoo, for one, has placed having a green cloud computing service one of its top priorities. According to Hari Vasudev, the Internet company is increasingly adopting a clean approach to its data centers, innovating its design and being more energy efficient, cost effective and environmentally-friendly.

For instance, its facility in Lockport, New York, leverages the location's cooler climate with a "chicken coop" design that allows outside air to cool the servers at all times, he shared in his e-mail.

These measures helped Yahoo score 55.9 percent--the highest among all companies--on Greenpeace's Clean Energy Index, which measures power generated by clean energy such as wind or solar power, according to the watchdog.

Doug Farber, managing director of enterprise at Google Asia-Pacific, also highlighted the search giant's continual efforts to be green. He noted in his e-mail that the company's data centers are "some of the greenest in the world" by building highly energy-efficient facilities and advanced cooling systems.

Additionally, he pointed out that the company had signed two long-term power purchase agreements for wind energy to drive its U.S. data centers in Iowa and Oklahoma.

With the rapid increase in automation and digitalization resulting in extremely high energy requirements in computing and storage, Frost & Sullivan South Asia and Middle East's head of consulting for ICT practice, Nishchal Khorana, summed up the situation when he said "greening is the need of the hour".

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