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How Green is my Cloud?

Cloud providers are keen to tout their Green credentials, but energy efficiency must balance against demand and clean energy in order to achieve sustainability
How Green is my Cloud?

When it comes to Cloud computing, CIOs are pragmatic, and perhaps cynical enough, to take its Green credentials with a grain of salt. It’s not that sustainability isn’t an issue, but it’s the flexibility and potential savings of Cloud computing that really have everybody excited.

It’s probably just as well, because although Cloud companies are quick to play the ‘Green IT’ card, it seems they’re not always so eager to provide information to back up the claims. And as is so often the case when it comes to sustainability, it’s not just a story about energy efficiency — it’s about clean energy.

Jevons Paradox

What is the link between data Clouds and Sydney in the mid-1800s? The answer is one William Stanley Jevons, an Englishman and economist who in his 1865 book, The Coal Question, argued that improvements in energy efficiency tend to increase rather than decrease the consumption of resources. The idea is now known as Jervons Paradox, and is often referred to as The Rebound Effect.

It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth. - Jevons

Jevons spent much of his formative working life — from 1854 to 1859 — in Australia as an assayist with the Sydney Mint. Gold fever was in the air, and it was Jevons’ job to assess the quality of the metal coming in from the goldfields. Jevons returned to England and eventually became the first Professor of Economics at University College in London. He is often credited as the founder of modern economics and he said later that many came to him during the time he spent in Australia. Fast forward 150 years to the data centre, and Jevons Paradox continues to hold; efficiency improvements around power consumption and the resulting cost efficiencies are one of the main hype points of Cloud computing. And it is the hype that has environmentalists worried.

Cloud energy report card

In May 2011, environmental group Greenpeace released a report evaluating the energy choices of some of the big Cloud companies, including Akamai, Amazon Web Services, Google, HP, IBM and Microsoft.

The idea of the Cloud energy report card was to compare the energy-related footprint of major providers and their data centres.

Greenpeace maintains that despite a proliferation of industry-created metrics for sustainability, none answer the questions: How much dirty energy is being used, and which companies are choosing Green energy to power the Cloud?

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