Forrester: The Cloud Is Inherently Green

Service providers promoting the green benefits of cloud-based infrastructure have focused heavily on energy and resource efficiency, and have tended to ignore other green issues such as renewable energy and e-waste, according to a new report by Forrester Research.

The self-service and pay-as-you-go nature of cloud computing encourages users to consume only what they need, driving energy and resource efficiencies, Forrester analysts Doug Washburn and Lauren E. Nelson say in the report, entitled ‘Cloud Computing Helps Accelerate Green IT‘.

Meanwhile, consolidation and virtualisation – which are inherent to cloud data centre environments – help to reduce the total physical server footprint. Fewer servers mean that less electricity is consumed, and also cuts down on potential e-waste, as well as the embodied energy in the servers. Similarly, automation allows users to do more with less, maximising the energy and resource efficiencies from server virtualisation.

As cloud environments – whether private or public – tend to be shared between a number of users, economies of scale in energy use and infrastructure resources can also be achieved.

Too much focus on energy efficiency

However, current cloud initiatives fail to maximise other green opportunities, including the use of renewable sources of energy, ‘design-for-environment’ policies – such as recyclability, reduction of toxic chemicals, reduction in packaging, and longevity – and environmentally-friendly disposal of e-waste.

According to Forrester, even the most energy-efficient data centre can have a significant carbon footprint, because more than 69 percent of global electricity is derived from greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels, like coal. While the potential for use of renewable energies by cloud data centres is there, other considerations such as overall energy price, the cost of land, data privacy regulations, and access to power tend to take priority.

Meanwhile, e-waste policies and other environmental criteria tend to be subordinate to price, features, and reputation. “Just because cloud minimises e-waste upfront, don’t assume those managing cloud-based infrastructure have policies to ensure e-waste is redeployed, resold, donated, or recycled,” warns the report.

The report’s findings echo a campaign by Greenpeace, which has lately been focusing on the energy use of data centres. Last week, the environmental campaigner called on data centres to lead the way in using more renewable energy.

Greenpeace’s campaign against data centres’ use of carbon-intensive energy has centred on Facebook – which sited a data centre in Oregon, where much of the electricity comes from coal – and on Apple, which recently launched a massive cloud service, without giving any details of its energy efficiency.

Is the cloud greener?

However, according to Dr Ian Bitterlin of Ark Continuity, which runs an efficient data centre in Wiltshire, cloud computing could cut the grid demand of servers in this country by 60 percent. He said that around 40 percent of Britain’s IT servers are being run in cabinets and old data centres, with a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of between three and seven or eight – which means up to 7 Watts of electricity are being wasted for every Watt delivered to the servers.

Moving this IT to the cloud would shift it from inefficient servers to data centres running at a PUE of around 1.2, he said.

Forrester concludes the report by recommending seven ways to get the most green benefits from the cloud. These include locating your data centre facility with access to renewable power and cooling, maximising consolidation and utilisation ratios through virtualisation and automation, and measuring and managing energy use to determine where and when to run workloads.

Forrester said that these changes, among others, will ultimately help to reduce costs, comply with carbon emission regulations – such as the UK government’s CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme – and make the most of finite resources like space, power, and cooling capacity.

Sophie Curtis

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  • GreenQloud's public cloud is run on 100% renewable energy, 30% geothermal and 70% hydro. We take this issue very seriously and intend to lead the way for cloud providers with an energy API for our users and our definition of Green Power Usage Effectiveness or GPUE:

    In my mind the cloud is of course "greener" when you talk about moving existing infrastructure into the cloud. But what about new users or webscale apps that weren't even possible before public clouds? The ease of use and scalability brings massive new energy need and if we are not using renewable energy we are no better off. We call it being truly green but you could as well call it sustainable IT.

    Eirikur Hrafnsson
    GreenQloud CEO and Founder

  • It is very welcome to see that Forrester has highlighted e-waste as an important problem that is far too low a priority on most CEOs agenda. As much as current IT trends, such as cloud computing, will reduce the amount of e-waste in the future, there is a more immediate need to handle the redundant computing equipment as companies transition to the cloud.

    Large enterprises are rightly fearful of the risks involved in e-waste disposal and presently they often resort to stockpiling their redundant complex equipment and tying up the property assets of manufacturing, government, healthcare and utilities. With too few simultaneously safe, trusted, secure, legal, scalable and viable routes to e-waste management, simply storing up the problem benefits no-one but landlords.

    So, as much as business leaders shy away from dealing with e-waste and according to the Forrester report, “subordinate [e-waste] to price, features and reputation,” we’d urge CEOs and CFOs to re-evaluate now as e-waste is intrinsically linked to financials and brand reputation. We therefore advocate a new model for e-waste disposal or material transformation: ‘Reuse, Repurpose and Recreate’. Responsible and leading organisations can legally and ethically in a manner, which will not damage their reputation or CSR programmes and will benefit them financially.

    Bob Clarke
    CEO, WEEE Systems

  • Focusing on energy efficiency is not enough. In France, Canada and Switzerland for example, there's more green house gaz emissions from the building of the servers than form running them.

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