Cloud computing and supply chain transparency

Supply chains? Yawn, right?

While supply chains may seem boring, they are of vital importance to organisations, and their proper management can make, or break companies.

Some recent examples of where poorly managed supply chains caused at best, serious reputational damage for companies include the Apple Computers child labour and workers suicide debacle; the Tesco horse meat scandal; and Nestlé’s palm oil problems.

What does this have to do with Cloud computing?

Well, last week, here in GreenMonk we published a ranking of cloud computing companies and their use of renewables. Greenqloud, Windows Azure, Google, SAP and Rackspace all come out of it quite well.

On the other hand, IBM and Oracle didn’t fare well in the study due to their poor commitment to renewables. But, at least they are reasonably transparent about it. Both organisations produce quite detailed corporate responsibility reports, and both report their emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project. So if you are sourcing your cloud infrastructure from Oracle or IBM, you can at least find out quite easily where the dirty energy powering your cloud is coming from.

Amazon however, does neither. It doesn’t produce any corporate responsibility reports and it doesn’t publish its emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project. This is particularly egregious given that Amazon is, by far the largest player in this market.

Amazon’s customers are taking a leap of faith by choosing Amazon to host their cloud. They have no idea where Amazon is sourcing the power to run their servers. Amazon could easily be powering their server farms using coal mined by Massey Energy, for example. Massey Energy, as well as having an appalling environmental record, is the company responsible for the 2010 West Virginia mining disaster which killed 29 miners, or Amazon could be using oil extracted from Tar sands. Or there could be worse in Amazon’s supply chain. We just don’t know, because Amazon won’t tell us.

This has got to be worrisome for Amazon’s significant customer base which includes names like Unilever, Nokia and Adobe, amongst many others. Imagine what could happen if Greenpeace found out… oh wait.

Just a couple of weeks ago US enterprise software company Infor announced at Amazon’s Summit that it plans to build it’s CloudSuite offerings entirely on Amazon’s AWS. As I tweeted last week, this is a very courageous move on Infor’s part

All the more brave given that Infor will be using Amazon to host the infrastructure of Infor’s own customer base. “Danger, Will Robinson!”

This lack of supply chain transparency is not sustainable. Amazon’s customers won’t tolerate the potential risk to their reputations and if Amazon are unwilling to be more transparent, there are plenty of other cloud providers who are.

Image credits failing_angel

Rackspace claims cloud is Green but fails to provide data


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

Use open source platforms to find cloud computing’s energy and emissions footprint


Regular GreenMonk readers will be very aware that I am deeply skeptical about claims that Cloud Computing is Green (or even energy efficient). And that I talk about the significant carbon, water and biodiversity effects cloud computing can have.

One of the biggest issues with any claims of Cloud Computing being energy efficient, or Green, is the lack of transparency from the Cloud Computing providers. None Almost none of them are publishing any data around the energy consumption, or emissions of their Cloud infrastructure (article updated from “None of them” to “Almost none of them…” after comments from Memset and Greenqloud in the comments section below). Without data to back them up, any claims of Cloud computing being efficient are worthless.

Last week, while at the RackSpace EMEA Analyst day, we were given a potted history of OpenStack, RackSpace’s Cloud Computing platform. OpenStack was jointly developed by NASA and RackSpace and they open-sourced it with an Apache License in July 2010.

Anyone can download OpenStack and use it to create and host Cloud Computing solutions. Prominent OpenStack users include NASA, RackSpace (not surprisingly), AT&T, Deutsche Telecom, HP and IBM.

What has this got to do with Cloud Computing and energy efficiency I hear you ask?

Well, it occurred to me, during the analyst day, that because OpenStack is open source, anyone can fork it and write a version with built-in energy and emissions reporting. What would be really cool is, if this functionality, having been written, became a part of the core distribution – then anyone deploying OpenStack, would have this functionality by default.

And, OpenStack isn’t the only open source Cloud platform – there are two others that I’m aware of – Citrix’s CloudStack and Eucalyptus. Having the software written for one open-source platform, should allow reasonably easy porting to the other two.

Of course, with the software written as open-source, there could be constant improvement of it. And as part of one of the cloud platforms, it should achieve widespread distribution quickly.

Having energy and emissions information available, will also allow inefficiencies in Cloud infrastructure to be quickly identified and fixed.

So, the next step is to get someone to write the software – anyone up for it?

Or, what are the chances of getting someone like HP, IBM, RackSpace, or even NASA to sponsor a hackathon whose aim is to develop such software?

Photo Credit Jeremy Burgin