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Inside Green IT

4 Reasons Why Cloud Computing is Also a Green Solution

<p>As cloud computing continues its meteoric rise, companies are taking advantage of the many economic and technological benefits of outsourced IT. But there are also significant -- and often-understated -- green benefits to cloud computing.</p>

Cloud computing has arrived, big time. Forrester estimates that worldwide spending on public cloud computing services will grow from $25.5 billion in 2011 to $160 billion in 2020, a 22 percent annual growth rate. Businesses are increasingly substituting cloud-based for internal resources to capture benefits like faster scale-up/scale-down of capacity, pay-as-you-go pricing, and access to cloud-based applications and services without buying and managing on-premises infrastructure.

But we've heard little so far about the efficiency and green attributes of cloud computing. That is starting to change as we hear from cloud or as-a-service providers about the architecture and power sources behind their cloud infrastructure, and as we all start to analyze customer implementations of cloud resources vs. on-premises alternatives.

Cloud infrastructure addresses two critical elements of a green IT approach: energy efficiency and resource efficiency. Whether done in a private or public cloud configuration, as-a-service computing will be greener for (at least) the following three reasons.

1. Resource virtualization, enabling energy and resource efficiencies.

Virtualization is a foundational technology for deploying cloud-based infrastructure that allows a single physical server to run multiple operating system images concurrently. As an enabler of consolidation, server virtualization reduces the total physical server footprint, which has inherent green benefits.

From a resource-efficiency perspective, less equipment is needed to run workloads, which proactively reduces data center space and the eventual e-waste footprint. From an energy-efficiency perspective, with less physical equipment plugged in, a data center will consume less electricity.

It's worth noting that server virtualization is the most widely adopted green IT project implemented or planned, at 90 percent of IT organizations globally into 2011.

2. Automation software, maximizing consolidation and utilization to drive efficiencies.

The presence of virtualization alone doesn't maximize energy and resource efficiencies. To rapidly provision, move, and scale workloads, cloud-based infrastructure relies on automation software.

Combined with the right skills and operational and architectural standards, automation allows IT professionals to make the most of their cloud-based infrastructure investment by pushing the limits of traditional consolidation and utilization ratios.

The higher these ratios are, the less physical infrastructure is needed, which in turn maximizes the energy and resource efficiencies from server virtualization.

3. Pay-per-use and self-service, encouraging more efficient behavior and life-cycle management.

The pay-as-you-go nature of cloud-based infrastructure encourages users to only consume what they need and nothing more. Combined with self-service, life-cycle management will improve, since users can consume infrastructure resources only when they need it -- and "turn off" these resources with set expiration times.

In concert, the pay-per-use and self-service capabilities of cloud-based infrastructure drive energy and resource efficiencies simultaneously, since users only consume the computing resources they need when they need it.

4. Multitenancy, delivering efficiencies of scale to benefit many organizations or business units.

Multitenancy allows many different organizations (public cloud) or many different business units within the same organization (private cloud) to benefit from a common cloud-based infrastructure.

By combining demand patterns across many organizations and business units, the peaks and troughs of compute requirements flatten out. Combined with automation, the ratio between peak and average loads becomes smaller, which in turn reduces the need for extra infrastructure. The result: massive efficiencies and economies of scale in energy use and infrastructure resources.

So migrating workloads to cloud resources, or developing new workloads in a cloud-native environment, can help an IT organization contribute to energy-efficiency and sustainability goals. But so far, cloud services and their providers are doing little to help their customers on three other facets of a green IT program (see chart below).

figure 1

IT buyers that want to maximize the green contribution of cloud computing services should press their suppliers on these dimensions:

• Renewable energy sources. If cloud providers are truly going to position their services as green, they must invest in renewable energy sources. The reality is that even the most energy-efficient data center can have a significant carbon footprint because they are typically getting 70 percent of their electricity from greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels, like coal. Ideally, centralized cloud data centers would be powered by renewable sources of energy, like wind, solar, or hydroelectricity.

To date, however, cloud providers have prioritized other factors in designing and locating their data centers, including the cost of land, cost of power, property taxes, data privacy regulations, and access to power, bandwidth, local skills, and customers.

• Design-for-environment policies. In 2010, 59 percent of IT buyers included green criteria in their evaluation and selection of IT equipment, up from only 25 percent in 2007. However, energy efficiency trumps all other design-for-environment characteristics, such as recyclability, reduction of toxic chemicals, reduction in packaging, and longevity.

Moreover, the weight of environmental criteria is used as a tiebreaker, not a deal breaker, and is always subordinate to price, features, and reputation. With that in mind, it's safe to assume that the same mentality is being applied in context to cloud-based infrastructure.

• Environmentally sound end-of-life. By pushing the limits of consolidation and utilization, cloud-based infrastructure minimizes the e-waste footprint upfront by requiring less physical equipment. But what happens when this equipment reaches its end-of-life?

While all organizations dispose of their end-of-life IT equipment in some shape or form, e-waste policies have long been an afterthought and are the least mature IT asset life-cycle management process. Just because cloud minimizes e-waste upfront, don't assume those managing cloud-based infrastructure have policies to ensure e-waste is redeployed, resold, donated, or recycled.

Cloud computing can be an important facet of an enterprise IT organization's push to be greener. And "the green cloud" (which certainly needs a better marketing label!) can also contribute to meeting critical operational goals:

  • Reduce costs. Consolidation means fewer servers, which in turn means lower cooling and space requirements, which means lower energy costs.
  • Comply with regulation. By tapping more efficient and therefore lower-emitting resources, cloud computing customers can reduce their carbon emissions and be better-positioned to meet regulatory standards.
  • Improve resiliency. Consolidation and improved utilization create more space, more power, and more cooling capacity within the same facility envelope. And tapping into public cloud providers offloads management of those resources from the customer to the service provider.

Have you moved to the cloud? Have you specified green power or any other green aspects as part of your RFPs to cloud providers? As always, I welcome your feedback and ideas in the comments below or by email.

Cloud photo CC-licensed by Luis Argerich.

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