The Cloud is Not Necessarily Green

“Cloud” is one of the biggest buzzwords these days. Many services are launching on a distributed cloud-based platform, like file sharing, applications, blogging, even hosting, and there are many advantages to cloud services. The most obvious being that you can access your files and applications from wherever you have an internet connection, and especially in the case of cloud hosting, downtime is almost nonexistent as the entire cloud would have to go offline before you noticed any service interruption.

One of the advantages that I keep hearing about online, from friends, and even from speakers at events is that they are moving to the cloud because it’s green (better for the environment). This is false. Sure, the resources that originally took an entire server to run are now efficiently spread across hundreds of servers (hooray!), but those servers may receive their power generated by coal or other fossil fuels (boo!).

Just because something is energy-efficient does not mean that it is green. Facebook’s Prineville Data Center is a miracle of energy efficiency, but it receives its power from PacifiCorp, who derive 70.6% of their power from coal and natural gas, 22.5% from other supplies, and only 6.9% from water and wind. So, while the Prineville Data Center is a miracle of energy efficiency, its overall operation is not green.

Now, if your cloud service derives its power from 100% renewable resources, then you have something highly efficient and green. Google has made incredible strides go green, and A Small Orange covers 150% of their power consumption with Renewable Energy Certificates (which is a topic for a later date), but most cloud services are not so environment-conscious.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for this. Tom Raftery, the man behind GreenMonk, gave a brilliant keynote address on Cloud Computing’s Green Potential and I highly recommend that you watch it.

I do feel that the cloud is really the future of software and web-based services, and I use many cloud-based services myself, but make sure that you know the facts before touting the cloud as good for the environment.