Cloud Wars: Green & Clean or a Cockroach Motel?

Dreamforce and Oracle Open World surfaced a rhetorical war of corporate responsibility: the clean cloud versus a cloud so compromised on privacy and security it can be characterised as the 'roach motel of clouds'.
Written by James Farrar, Contributor

The 2011 editions of Oracle Open World and Dreamforce were typically heavy on showmanship and entertainment with each pulling in about 45,000 attendees. But the conference season may come to remembered as the time when the conflict between the environmental efficiency of the cloud versus concerns over its security and privacy was brought into sharpest relief.

In 2008 the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) defined ten major sustainability issues for the ICT industry as follows:

  • Climate change
  • Waste and materials use
  • Access to ICT 
  • Freedom of expression 
  • Privacy and security
  • Employee relationships
  • Customer relationships
  • Supply chain
  • Product use issues (including health, safety and wellbeing) 
  • Economic development.

Now in 2011 two of the major players in the enterprise market have seized on two of these issues as points of pretty fierce competitive differentiation.

First Salesforce. At Dreamforce Mark Benioff warned against the 'false cloud'.   

Salesforce back up the environmental claims with a report they commissioned from hired in guns from WSP who estimate that the Salesforce multi tenanted cloud architecture is 64% more carbon efficient than a private cloud. Intuitively this would seem to stack up but Tom Raftery of Greenmonk, the authoritative analyst in this space, recently poured a big jug of ice cold water over such claims: 

The mistake here is presuming a direct relationship between energy and carbon emissions. While this might seem like a logical assumption, it is not necessarily valid.

If I have a company whose energy retailer is selling me power generated primarily by nuclear or renewable sources for example, and I move my applications to a cloud provider whose power comes mostly from coal, then the move to cloud computing will increase, not decrease, my carbon emissions..........

.........The main problem though, is that cloud computing providers still don’t publish their energy and emissions data. This is an issue I have highlighted on this blog many times in the last three years and until cloud providers become fully transparent with their energy and emissions information, it won’t be possible to state definitively that cloud computing can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Now to Oracle. As Larry Dignan reported from Oracle Open World - itself produced as a 'green event' under the watchful eye of Paul Salinger - Larry Ellison went on the offensive against Salesforce's multi tenanted cloud architecture not by arguing the toss on environment, but by emphasising the supposed inferior interoperability, privacy and security architectural features of the Salesforce platform.

They put your data at risk by co-mingling it with your competitor’s data, .........you can check in, but you can’t check out. I like to think of it as the roach motel of clouds. Now that is a false cloud.......... You have a choice, and I’m pro-choice. The guys at Salesforce are not pro-choice.

With the appointment of a Chief Sustainability Officer at Oracle and Salesforce's sudden and recent commitment to environmental transparency, watch for the sustainability war of rehetoric to escalate. Corporate sustainability has heretofore been a genteel game practiced with a plenitude of hand wringing. For the enterprise market at least it looks as if the gloves are off.

Disclosure: I am an employee of SAP and Greenmonk has been an occasional supplier to SAP. Views expressed are my own. See my bio.

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