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Rackspace claims cloud is Green but fails to provide data

Rackspace

Rackspace’s Director of Sustainability Melissa Gray, wrote a piece recently on the Rackspace blog titled The Greenest Computing is Cloud Computing.

Given that Cloud computing’s impact is a topic we cover regularly here on GreenMonk, we were excited to see a cloud provider address this issue, especially when this provider is one we have covered favourably in the past.

However, we were disappointed with the article due to it’s lack of any specific data to prove its case. Here are some quotes from the piece:

Every watt Rackspace uses is tracked — It came from somewhere (a power company, a generator) and it went somewhere (an office, a data center to power a server or power infrastructure).

Great – so how myuch power does Rackspace use, and what are its emissions?

We continually take steps to improve energy efficiency and reduce consumption of other natural resources.

Nice, so how much were Rackspace’s emissions in 2010, how much did you reduce them by in 2011, and what’s your target for 2012?

How much of those emissions were produced by your cloud infrastructure? And how much emissions did you displace by doing so?

We left the following comment on the Rackspace blog – it hasn’t shown up there yet, it is probably stuck in moderation somewhere (obviously they wouldn’t refuse to publish it):

Hi Melissa,

Nice article – well written but I notice you managed to avoid mentioning Rackspace’s emissions anywhere in the piece.

You need to publish some hard data to prove that “the Greenest computing is Cloud computing” – it is not enough just to say so.

If an organisation has an in-house email server, we can relatively easily measure its energy utilisation, and from that calculate its emissions. If it moves to a Rackspace server for the organisation’s email, we now have no way of knowing its emissions. If you are not publishing them, for all we know, their emissions are significantly higher than they were when they were in-house.

If, as you say, “Every watt Rackspace uses is tracked”, then it should be straightforward to report on energy use to your customers (my utility co. can do it). Will Rackspace do this? Or better yet, will Rackspace build this functionality into OpenStack, so all OpenStack users can do this?

Btw, I assume your new data center in Australia was sited based on access to renewables?

We await Rackspace’s response.

Image credit Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

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Cloud Computing: Google Apps cloud has a relatively high carbon intensity

Cloud

I have been researching and publishing on Cloud Computing for quite some time here. Specifically, I’ve been highlighting how it is not possible to know if Cloud computing is truly sustainable because none of the significant Cloud providers are publishing sufficient data about their energy consumption, carbon emissions and water use. It is not enough to simply state total power consumed, because different power sources can be more, or less sustainable – a data center run primarily on renewables is far less carbon intensive than one that relies on power from an energy supplier relying on coal burning power stations.

At Greenmonk we believe it’s important to get behind the headline numbers to work out what’s really going on. We feel it’s unacceptable to simply state that Cloud is green and leave it at that, which is why we’ve been somewhat disappointed by recent work in the field by the Carbon Disclosure Project. We would like to see more rigour applied by CDP in its carbon analytics.

Carbon intensity should be a key measure, and we need to start buying power from the right source, not just the cheapest source.

I was pleasantly surprised then yesterday when I heard that Google had published a case study ostensibly proving that Cloud had reduced the carbon footprint of at least one major account.

However, it is never that straightforward, is it?

The Google announcement came in the form of a blog post titled Energy Efficiency in the Cloud, written by Google’s SVP for Technical Infrastructure, Urs Hölzle. I know Urs, I’ve met him a couple of times, he’s a good guy.

Unfortunately, in his posting he heavily references the Carbon Disclosure Project’s flawed report on Cloud Computing, somewhat lessening the impact of his argument.

Urs claims that in a rollout of Google Apps for Government for the US General Services Administration,

the GSA was able to reduce server energy consumption by nearly 90% and carbon emissions by 85%.

An 85% reduction in carbon emissions sounds very impressive – but how does Google calculate that figure? Also worth considering is the age of the server estate – any data center that decommissions older servers in favour of new ones is likely to see an efficiency bump. Assuming the GSA servers running Microsoft apps were more than five years old, they would have seen a considerable efficiency bump simply by running the apps on new servers, on premise or off. Without disappearing down a rathole, its also worth noting cradle to cradle factors in server manufacturing – supply chains consume carbon.

We looked at a whitepaper titled Google Apps: Energy Efficiency in the Cloud [PDF], where the search company shares some of the methodology behind the blog post. We would like to see a lot more detail about assumptions and methods.

The key reference to how Google calculated carbon emissions is this line:
The following summary tallies up every GSA server dedicated to email and collaboration across 14 locations in the continental U.S. and applies the appropriate PUEs, electricity prices, and carbon intensities for each location

Here’s the table:
Google Apps GSA case study

The data in the table above is interesting but if you look at the carbon information, you start to notice something strange – here’s a slightly different view on Google’s data:

Google Apps carbon intensity

While it is no real surprise that Google’s servers produce less CO2 per annum than the GSA’s (4.75 vs 7.69 tons), what is very surprising (to me at least) is the fact that Google’s facilities are significantly more carbon intensive than the GSA’s were (14.5 vs 10.63 tons of CO2 per kWh).

In simple terms, carbon intensity is a measure of the amount of CO2 released in the generation of electricity. The data above, clearly show that the data centres hosting the Google Apps Cloud are not optimised for reduced emissions (the best way for data centers to optimise for reduced emissions is to source electricity generated from renewable sources).

I guess the good news is that, while Google has helped the GSA to reduce its carbon emissions, there’s plenty of room for improvement!

I reached out to Urs for a response to this and because he’s traveling at the minute, the only answer I received pointed out that since 2007 Google’s net emissions are zero. And, in fairness to Google, they do fund some worthwhile offsetting projects, as you can see in the video below (check out the farmer towards the end, he’s just awesome!).

Cloud photo credit mnsc

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Efficiency and Ecological Responsibility of Cloud Computing (including water footprint)

A BrightTALK Channel

Unfortunately the provider for this webinar requires a login to listen to this discussion. If you don’t wish to register, my username is [email protected] and my password is 000000

Mark Thiele from Switch recently invited me to participate in a webinar he was moderating on the Efficiency and Ecological Responsibility of Cloud Computing which took place yesterday evening.

Also participating in the discussion were Harkeeret Singh (aka Harqs) Global Head of Energy & Sustainable IT at Thomson Reuters and Jason Hoffman CTO and Founder of Joyent.

The discussion started off asking whether or not cloud computing is efficient and the panel was fairly unanimous in deciding that cloud computing is not efficient. The main point I made here is that because cloud providers are not publishing energy information, it is not possible to say whether or not cloud computing is energy efficient.

At around 15 minutes into the conversation, we shifted on to asking whether or not cloud computing is green. There was a good discussion on this with the fact that efficiency not necessarily being green being one of the main points raised. Also brought up was how plummeting costs of cloud computing are leading to an explosion in consumption – in itself not very green. And as a counterpoint Harqs raised the fact that lower costs are beneficial to start-ups in developing countries.

Then 33 minutes into the conversation, we started discussing the impacts on water of cloud computing. One point I raised is that if you run a 25kW rack for one hour the water footprint from electricity productions is:

  • 0.1 litres if the electricity comes from wind
  • 2.5 litres if the electricity comes from solar
  • 45 litres if the electricity comes from coal and
  • 55 litres if the electricity comes from nuclear (and this doesn’t include the considerable water footprint of uranium mining).

Nuclear power plants use phenomenal amounts of water. From the Union of Concerned Scientists report [PDF] on this

the typical 1,000 Mwe nuclear power reactor with a 30oF ?T needs approximately 476,500 gallons per minute. If the temperature rise is limited to 20oF, the cooling water need rises to 714,750 gallons per minute. Some of the new nuclear reactors being considered are rated at 1,600 Mwe. Such a reactor, if built and operated, would need nearly 1,144,000 gallons per minute of once-through cooling for a 20 degree temperature rise.

Actual circulating water system flow rates in once-through cooling systems are 504,000 gpm at Millstone Unit 2 (CT); 918,000 gpm at Millstone Unit 3 (CT); 460,000 gpm at Oyster Creek (NJ); 311,000 at Pilgrim (MA); and 1,100,000 gpm at each of the twp Salem reactors (NJ).

And that level of water consumption has big biodiversity effects – imagine the large water intakes required for a nuclear plant taking in one million gallons of water per minute. These water intakes don’t just take in water, they also take in any life forms in that water. None of these life forms survive going through a nuclear power plant obviously. And then there’s the heat pollution effects from the warmer water coming from the power plant outlets.

Towards the end of the discussion Jason asked if making this data available to end users would be a clear differentiator for Joyent. I responded that it would be because a) there is a demand for this information and b) because having seen how Greenpeace successfully went after Facebook, (and in their latest report are now targeting Apple, Amazon and Microsoft) for their dis-regard for the footprint of their cloud computing infrastructure, nobody wants to be the next company in Greenpeace’s sights.

Harqs added that any company pursuing such a policy should open-source it so everyone could contribute to the development of constantly improving reporting standards.

The highlight of the webinar for me was at 47:30 when Jason committed to doing just that.

All in all a superb discussion with a fantastic outcome. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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Green bits and bytes for Feb 10th 2011

Green bits & bytes

.

Some of the Green announcements which passed by my desk this week:

  1. Digital Lumens announced that its Intelligent Light Engines have received NOM (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas) and UL (Underwriters Laboratories Canada) marks, which are respectively Mexican and Canadian certification equivalents of UL Listing in the United States and allow the products to be sold in Mexico and Canada.
  2. CA Technologies and Capgemini announced a partnership to establish a global Energy, Carbon and Sustainability Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) service. The idea of the partnership, is to help customers better manage complex sustainability data collection and increasingly challenging reporting demands, enabling them to focus on sustainability strategy and carbon reduction activities.
  3. Sandbag.org.uk has reported that the EU Commission has voted to ban industrial gas offset credits from HFC and N20 destruction projects from the next phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, beginning in 2013. This, they say, is important because it shows a willingness to fix the problem on the part of the politicians and because it shows that campaigning works!
  4. CA Technologies have announced that Cynthia Curtis has been promoted to vice president and chief sustainability officer
  5. Career Intelligence (i.e. recruitment) site Vault.com has launched a new section of their site dedicated entirely to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The new CSR area of the site helps jobseekers discover the types of careers in this burgeoning field, and commentary on how CSR is changing traditional career fields.
  6. Boston-Power, maker of high-end lithium-ion batteries, recently announced the installation of Keith Schmid as CEO. Schmid takes over from company founder Christina Lampe-?nnerud will become executive chairman. Schmid joins Boston-Power from Power Distribution, Inc., a provider of power distribution equipment and services, where he served as president and chief executive.

You should follow me on Twitter here

Photo credit Nick Harris1

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The rise of the energy manager role

computer

Photo credit jurvetson

One of the topics which I responded to on the recent IBM Eco Jam was “IT’s Central Role In Managing Energy & Carbon”.

This topic was raised by another analyst (again IBM has asked me not to mention participants by name but if the analyst in question sees this and wants me to name him/her, I have no problem so doing) when s/he posted the following:

Forrester’s research on energy & carbon management systems predicts that IT organizations will take on a central role in choosing, owning, and operating these systems. The challenge of managing energy & carbon emissions will increasingly be information-related, and it’s enterprise IT organizations that have the expertise to install and operate software systems of record across the entire company. Just like systems for managing customers (CRM), money, materials (ERP), and employees, carbon & energy management systems will collect, integrate, analyze, and report on the newest set of assets/liabilities that will be used by internal and external stakeholders to judge corporate performance.

Now, I have no issues whatsoever with IT organisations having a role in choosing Energy Management systems. IT’s function would involve installing and supporting the software so naturally they’d have a say in its purchase. They’d also have a role in crafting requirements documents and reviewing responses but “owning and operating” these systems? I don’t think so.

I realise part of this has to do with empire building ambitions by IT but really, since when was energy management a core competence of IT?

I absolutely realise that sustainability is all about information and data, and certainly IT has a role in ensuring that this information is always available but asking IT to own and operate energy management systems is, frankly, ludicrous. You might as well ask IT to own and operate the financial management systems.

So if not IT, who then should run these systems? I foresee the rise of a new role – the Energy manager, in companies. The Energy manager will likely report to the CFO, the COO or the CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer). The energy manager’s role will be to minimise the company’s energy (& probably water) footprint and to report savings in monetary, kWh and tons CO2.

With the increasing regulatory landscape around carbon emissions (i.e. the Carbon Reduction Commitment in the UK), carbon measurement and reporting will become mandatory for most companies. In that environment having someone specialised in energy management, responsible for this function will start to seem like a very good idea.

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July 20th GreenMonk Energy and Sustainability show

Here is the chatstream from today’s GreenMonk Energy & Sustainability show:
03:31 Tom Raftery: Audio & video check – can you see/hear me?
03:31 MikeTheBee: Wainting to compare Tom’s resolution :-)
03:32 SukiFuller: Howdy All.
03:33 CosmoCat: Hi
03:33 SukiFuller: Packing break for you Tom!
03:33 MikeTheBee: Hi Suki, U got a pic of yet?
03:33 Joe Garde: Hi Tom
03:33 Tom Raftery: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/tiny-nation-at-war-with-rising-tide-51207557.html
03:34 Joe Garde: .tv
03:34 liveireland: ok u have our audience
03:34 MikeTheBee: Ah found TOm back on Ustream
03:35 SukiFuller: @mikethebee pic?
03:35 Tom Raftery: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/weather/07/20/pakistan.rainfall/index.html?iref=topnews
03:35 MikeTheBee: I was on the Livestream Player form 10mins ago Hah
03:36 MikeTheBee: It didn’t change automaticalyy
03:36 Tom Raftery: http://www.physorg.com/news167278462.html
03:39 SukiFuller: I lost the stream.
03:39 MikeTheBee: I’, OK
03:39 Joe Garde: nah its grand
03:40 Tom Raftery: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/unclimatewarmingintellectualrights
03:40 MikeTheBee: Fan is quiet now as well. Less carbon :-)
03:41 Tom Raftery: http://greenbiz.com/blog/2009/07/16/walmart-sustainability-index
03:41 SukiFuller: Hehe – packed box was affecting my router
03:43 Tom Raftery: http://www.katescomment.com/carbon-cost-download-vs-cd/
03:44 MikeTheBee: @sukifuller Those Chinese again :-)
03:45 SukiFuller: @mikethebee and I haven’t even gotten there yet!
03:45 Tom Raftery: http://www.upi.com/Energy_Resources/2009/07/17/Desertec-African-solar-power-for-Europe/UPI-18021247870250
03:49 MikeTheBee: Did you get your invite to visit them yet
03:49 Tom Raftery: http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/07/17/bp-gives-up-on-jatropha-for-biofuel/
03:49 SukiFuller: So would the money made from this be pumped back to African nations?
03:50 Tom Raftery: http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/07/14/biofuels-bonanza-exxon-venter-to-team-up-on-algae/
03:52 Tom Raftery: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/jimmy-carters-next-urgent_b_240624.html
03:52 SukiFuller: Nice to know
03:54 Tom Raftery: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/jimmy-carters-next-urgent_b_240624.html
03:55 Joe Garde: and in a cork accent too lol
03:55 Tom Raftery: http://sandbag.org.uk/new_map
03:58 Tom Raftery: http://environment.uk.msn.com/news/headlines/article.aspx?cp-documentid=148623002
03:58 Tom Raftery: http://realtimecarbon.org/
04:00 Joe Garde: not the leafblower tho…
04:01 Joe Garde: wind up job?
04:01 SukiFuller: For you yanks that would be flashlight.
04:02 Joe Garde: there’s another device out there you can charge your phones too along with torch etc
04:02 Tom Raftery: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/07/16/gri-touts-46-increase-use-of-gri-guidelines-in-sustainability-reporting/
04:02 Tom Raftery: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/07/seaicedata
04:03 SukiFuller: @joegarde hmmm, would be a great workout if garden tools worked like that
04:03 Tom Raftery: http://www.energy.gov/news2009/7640.htm
04:03 Joe Garde: ah yes!
04:04 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/20/ipcc-pachauri-climate-change-cost
04:06 Joe Garde: SukiFuller I’m @onlinemeetings on twitter just followed you
04:06 MikeTheBee: Thx, Tom, I kept loosing you.
04:06 SukiFuller: Excellent stuff as always!
04:06 Joe Garde: thanks again tom… gotta go
04:07 Tom Raftery: Thanks guys for all the contributions, great stuff!
04:07 SukiFuller: @mikiethebee then it might not have been my boxes and router then
04:07 MikeTheBee: Ah, I caught the end that time.
04:08 MikeTheBee: @sukifuller, I think you were just a little ahead of me.
04:08 SukiFuller: @mikethebee well can always listen to the recording…I need to follow you on TV

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Rethinking B2C: Business to (Carbon) Consumer

I was thinking about the term business to consumer (B2C) the other day. I am not a huge fan of the term “consumer” in the digital era- we’re all content creators after all. But I just realised that my notion that we are all producers is even more true in terms of carbon footprint. Whether individuals or businesses, free agents or organisations, we are all net producers of carbon dioxide.

Aha- I thought to myself, “neat insight”, and so to twitter, where I said:

“when it comes to carbon emissions none of us are consumers. we are all producers.”

Quick as a flash Digital Signals came back and said:

“The fern on our bathroom window sill would beg to differ!”

The real insight therefore is that Business To Consumer might have an entirely different meaning this century. Businesses need to create closed loops systems with plants, the only reliable carbon consumers. Of course such an idea might sound bonkers – but why shouldn’t a polluter directly pay to halt deforestation in, say, Brazil? Lets save the planet’s lungs while we still can, before the only carbon consumers we can use are ugly crop-based monocultures.

At the moment we’re trying to come up with sophisticated cap and trade schemes to work the climate change problems we face. As ever complexity rules. But if every company in the Fortune 500 rethought the notion of the consumer, and worked the problem accordingly, we could see some interesting new models emerge.

It has been said that offsetting is horse puckey, but that seems awfully shortsighted, particularly if the offsetting investment is in carbon consumers. An awful lot of research is going to be required to identify the best plant species for carbon consumption- but there has to be a successful business or five in there.

So what might your Sustainable Business To Consumer strategy be?

picture courtesy of dawnzy58 on flickr under creativecommons 2.0 attribution license.

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SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer on Carbon Reduction

I was in San Jose last week for for the O’Reilly ETech conference. I had an opportunity to meet SAP’s newly appointed Chief Sustainability Officer, Peter Graf and we discussed SAP’s announced aim of reducing its carbon emissions by 51% by 2020.

Some great stuff in the video – I especially loved the bit where Peter talked about the enthusiasm of SAP employees for getting on board with this program. They asked for Sustainability Champions for the company hoping to get 100 by the end of March. They had 200 by the end of the 2nd day!!! Everyone wants to be doing the right thing.

This is part II of a three-part video series I shot with Peter. I published the first part, where Peter discusses the role of Chief Sustainability Officer for SAP earlier this week and the third part will be published next week.

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Carbonetworks on Carbon platforms and Carbon strategies

I talked with Carbonetworks’ President and CEO, Michael Meehan, the other day. We discussed Carbonetworks’ Carbon platform, and how their application helps companies participate in global carbon markets.

Carbonetworks software helps companies understand whether their carbon is going to be an asset or liability to them today and in the future as and works with companies to roll out their carbon strategies.

The television image in the video is from videocrab

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American Leadership: What Could Have Been

I was just reading Industries Allied to Cap Carbon Differ on the Details from the NYTimes when something struck me. The US did the right thing in not signing up to Kyoto, but for the wrong reasons. You know why it should have refused? Because. Kyoto. Didn’t. Go. Far. Enough.

We should all be paying a lot more attention to the Climate Action Partnership, which includes both major polluters and environmental groups.

In January 2007, the eclectic group endorsed a bold national policy that called for reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050, an aggressive target that is in line with recommendations from an international panel of scientists. But the group, which now has 33 members, has failed to reach consensus on a variety of issues, including how to allocate carbon permits and whether to include a price cap for carbon credits.