Greenpeace rains on cloud energy parade. Again.

This time, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft bear the brunt of the environmental group's criticism about data center electricity choices.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace has released its latest in a series of reports about the energy selections being made by big brand-name companies in the cloud services space.

This time, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft bear the brunt of its ire. Their alleged sin? Sourcing their energy for data center investments from dirty sources including coal and nuclear power.

The Greenpeace report, "How Clean is Your Cloud?" covers 14 high-tech companies with aspirations in the cloud computing space. The organization sets Google, Yahoo and Facebook in one camp, describing them as companies that are taking steps to power their cloud offerings with clean energy. It describes Apple, Amazon and Microsoft as laggards.

It is worth noting that Facebook has been slammed with a capital "S" in the past for its data center sourcing decisions, but it apparently is on Greenpeace's good side right now.

Greenpeace figures that if the "cloud" were a country, it would require as much energy as the fifth largest nation in the world and that demand is supposed to triple by 2020.

Greenpeace writes:

"Instead of linking their IT innovation to equally innovative clean sources of electricity, many IT companies are simply choosing to attach their modern information factories to some of the dirtiest utilities on the planet. These utilities, unlike the IT companies, are not known for their innovation. Because of the tendency within the IT sector to cluster in the same geographic locations, these investments are driving significant new demand for both coal and nuclear power in many regions of the world -- and in rapidly growing economies like India, thy are driving demand for diesel from large onsite generators."

I was somewhat baffled by Greenpeace to include Apple on the list of three companies that are "rapidly expanding with adequate regard to source of electricity and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds."

After all, the company is building what has been billed as the largest commercial solar installation in the United States at its data center in Maiden, N.C.

Apple actually responded to the Greenpeace report before the end of the business day, Tuesday, in the form of comments given to The New York Times. Apple told the Times that a data center used in the Greenpeace estimates used much less energy at full capacity than the organization estimated. In its blog, Greenpeace commented: "While we welcome Apple's attempt today to provide more specific details on its North Carolina iData Center, it does not appear to have provided the full story, and is instead seeking to provide select pieces of information to make their dirty energy footprint seem smaller."

If there is one thing I continue to take away from these reports, it is that Greenpeace usually punishes the sin of failure to disclose very harshly. And as the cloud movement continues to gain momentum, there will continue to be more scrutiny of electricity as a vital resource.

From a corporate standpoint, Greenpeace's identification of Amazon.com as a company to watch not in a good way is particularly intriguing -- since it is one of the most influential infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers into the business world. (Rackspace is also evaluated in the Greenpeace report.) If your organization chooses Amazon.com Web Services as its IaaS provider, it needs to consider the electricity that underlies that public cloud environment -- especially if your company has a public position on energy consumption reduce, carbon emissions reductions and other sustainability initiatives. Watch your back.

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