Greenpeace report challenges the Cloud industry on the environment

By David Bicknell

Interesting report from Greenpeace on what it describes as “the energy choices that power Cloud Computing.”

“How dirty is your data?” is claimed by Greenpeace to the first ever report on the energy choices made by IT companies including Akamai, Amazon.com (Amazon Web Services), Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo, and it says, highlights the need for greater transparency from global IT brands on the energy and carbon footprint of their Internet infrastructure.

In its highlights from the report, Greenpeace suggests:

• The $1 Billion (USD) Apple iData Center in North Carolina, expected to open this spring, will consume as much as 100 MW of electricity, equivalent to the electricity usage of approximately 80,000 homes in the U.S. or over a quarter million in the E.U.. The surrounding energy grid has less than 5 percent clean energy, with the remaining 95 percent coming from dirty, dangerous sources like coal and nuclear.
• Both Yahoo! and Google seem to understand the importance of a renewable energy supply, with Yahoo! siting most of its data centres near sources of renewable energy, and Google is directly signing power purchasing agreements for renewable energy and investing in solar and wind energy projects in many US states as well as Germany. Their models should be employed and improved upon by other Internet (“cloud computing”) companies.
• Facebook, one of the fastest growing and most popular destinations on the web, is unfortunately on track to be the most dependent cloud computing companies on coal powered electricity with over 53 percent of its facilities estimated to rely on coal to power the Facebook cloud.

In its executive summary, Greenpeace says: “Information Technology (IT) is disruptive. Largely for the better, IT has disrupted the way we travel, communicate, conduct business, produce, socialise and manage our homes and lives. This disruptive ability has the potential to reduce our dependence on dirty energy and make society cleaner, more efficient and powered renewably. But as we applaud the positive, visible impacts and measurable, game-changing potential of IT, we also need to pay attention to what’s behind the curtain.

“The ‘Cloud’ is IT’s biggest innovation and disruption. Cloud computing is converting our work, finances, health and relationships into invisible data, centralised in out-of-the-way storage facilities or data centres. This report seeks to answer an important question about this trend, currently underway across the globe: As Cloud technology disrupts our lives in many positive ways, are the companies that are changing everything failing to address their own growing environmental footprint?”

Key learnings from the report are that:

•Data centres to house the explosion of virtual information
currently consume 1.5-2% of all global electricity; this is growing
at a rate of 12% a year.

•The IT industry points to cloud computing as the new, green
model for our IT infrastructure needs, but few companies provide
data that would allow us to objectively evaluate these claims.

•The technologies of the 21st century are still largely powered by
the dirty coal power of the past, with over half of the companies
rated herein relying on coal for between 50% and 80% of their
energy needs.

•IT innovations have the potential to cut greenhouse gas
emissions across all sectors of the economy, but IT’s own
growing demand for dirty energy remains largely unaddressed by
the world’s biggest IT brands.

•There is a lack of transparency across the industry about IT’s own
greenhouse gas footprint and a need to open up the books on its
energy footprint.

•In emerging markets, where there is limited reliable grid electricity,
there is a tremendous opportunity for telecom operators to show
leadership by investing in renewable energy, but many are relying
on heavily polluting diesel generators to fuel their growth.

•Data centre clusters (Google, Facebook, Apple) are cropping up
in places like North Carolina and the US Midwest, where cheap
and dirty coal-powered electricity is abundant.

•IT companies are failing to prioritise access to clean and
renewable energy in their infrastructure siting decisions.

•Of the 10 brands graded, Akamai, a global content distribution
network, earned top-of-the-class recognition for transparency;
Yahoo! had the strongest infrastructure siting policy; Google &
IBM demonstrated the most comprehensive overall approach to
reduce its carbon footprint to date.

•Across the board, IT companies have thus far failed to commit to
clean energy in the same way they are embracing energy
efficiency, which is holding the sector back from being truly
green

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