How Green Is Cloud Computing Really?

in Cloud Computing

green cloud computing By Ruth Barton

As people are becoming more environmentally aware they are increasingly trying to reduce their carbon footprint. While there are many ways to do this in the business world, organisations are increasingly turning to cloud computing. Experts in ISO 14001 certification and environmental management systems explore how eco-friendly cloud computing really is.

Thanks to developments in technology and connection speeds the internet is becoming highly accessible to more and more people. Internet users are increasingly capable of uploading and downloading files easier and faster than ever before.

15 Billion Connected Devices

Internet traffic is estimated to increase around 400% by 2015, it will amount to nearly 3.5 billion people being online and a massive 15 billion devices connecting to the network. This is mostly a result of a rise in mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, a UN agency predict mobile phones will outnumber people by 2014 and Cisco forecast that by 2017, mobile internet traffic is to grow thirteen fold.

Cloud computing has been heralded as the new green movement in technology for the following reasons:

  • Traditionally, firms invest in a server room and employ staff to maintain it. Server rooms are expensive to run because they consume a lot of energy to operate and also need to be kept cool (usually using air conditioning). If the servers overheat it can reduce the operating life and cause system crashes and even if the servers aren’t being used low temperatures still need to be maintained which can cause huge amounts of unnecessary energy loss and added cost.
  • Cloud computing allows business to pay for only what they use, they can easily scale up or down on space. Having many servers in one place means that only one area needs to be cooled, saving on costs and helping the environment.
  • Cloud computing is also more convenient and user friendly. Businesses are no longer restricted to location and can access anything stored on the cloud from anywhere in the world, this means that working remotely is easier and more secure. With the improved internet connectivity more people are able to get online and make more use of its services. Cloud services allow people to buy and rent products online. Companies like Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, iTunes and Google Play music allow users to access their data anywhere they want and view/listen to music when and where they choose.
  • Companies using the cloud are greener because it allows people to work remotely which can cut down on requirements to commute and reduces the need to print off documents. Renting and storing music on the cloud is more eco-friendly because it cuts down on packaging and the manufacture of hard copies of products.


Is the cloud really green?

Thanks to the popularity of cloud services, an increase in energy consumption patterns have been reported and this growth is only expected to continue. The total energy used in wireless cloud services is predicted to increase by as much as 460% between 2012 and 2015. This quadruple in energy consumption is equivalent to an additional 4.9 million new cars on the road – and this will mostly be a result of wireless networks, which will account for around 90% of this energy.

Cloud server farms are power hungry places, the larger data centres can use up to 100 megawatts – this is enough energy to keep 100,000 homes running. To increase their efficiency, data centres are increasingly being built in cooler climates to be highly optimised for energy efficiency and scientists are also looking to make transistors and processors more and more energy efficient. We are currently restricted by the amount of transistors that can fit onto a chip – if there are any more it will overheat so there are currently unpowered spaces on the chip, designers are calling this empty space ‘dark silicon’.

Dark Silicon

Dark silicon is not ideal, but it has luckily inspired a way to make the chips more energy efficient. Scientists are looking to replace these empty areas with low-power circuits that are dedicated to specific functions such as network interfaces or digital signal processors. These specialised circuits can use up to one thousandth of the energy of a general processor and as technology develops so will the scope of the ability of these specialised circuits.

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that cloud computing is definitely a green alternative. If the cloud server farms use renewable energy it is really promising, especially as technology advances and dark silicon can be optimised. However, it’s important to bear in mind that no matter how efficient the data centres become, they only account for 9% for the total wireless cloud energy consumption – the rest is wireless networks. This common misconception needs to be addressed before any significant steps can be made towards making the cloud more environmentally friendly.

This article was written by Ruth Barton on behalf of QMS International PLC – an organisation offering ISO certifications, such as ISO 27001 and ISO 14001and was first published on my previous Web2 and More blog..

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