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With great power comes great responsibility – or, Cloud companies need to get on-board

Spiderman

With great power comes great responsibility

This great quote from the movie Spider-Man, is just as true for technology, as it is for superheroes.

Technology has made possible tremendous changes in our quality of life in the last couple of decades. Everything from surgery to transportation, education to construction, space exploration and most other fields of human endeavour now depend heavily on IT. However, these great advances in our knowledge and abilities comes at a cost.

Information Technology’s carbon footprint, estimated by Gartner to be 2% of global carbon emissions in 2007, is rapidly increasing and by some estimates may even double by 2020. This is obviously an unsustainable situation. ICT, which can help so many organisations to reduce their carbon footprint, should itself be an shining example of low emissions.

To this end, the EU commission’s new ICT Footprint initiative is to be lauded. The announcement of the project on EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes blog gave the following details of the initiative:

This is why the European Commission has persuaded three leading standards development organisations and a prominent greenhouse gas accounting initiative to pool their measurement efforts. Under our new initiative these organisations will examine the whole sector, the whole lifecycle and the scalability of these methods.

That means measuring everything from the supply of raw materials to their recycling. Measuring not only what it takes to make products like a laptop, but also the impact of services like hosting data in the cloud. It means that in the near future we will be able to measure the ICT environmental footprint of whole cities or countries, including the positive environmental effects that ICT enables.

Several major ICT companies and organisations from Europe, Asia and the US are now trialling such measurement solutions. And from this month onwards, nearly 30 players have joined the European Commission to broaden and speed up the effort. We call on more and more such players to get involved.

It is tremendous to see this kind of global leadership from the EU. While this only applies to the EU, it does require the development of measurement and reporting systems for whole IT ecosystems and that can only be a good thing. In time, the hope would be that these systems are used well beyond the EU and by all IT providers.

The initial participants in the organisation are some of the better known large IT companies – BT, Alcatel-Lucent, Intel, Cisco, Hitachi, Telefonica, Fujitsu, SAP, Nokia, AMD, Dell, HP, etc. However, notably absent are the major Cloud providers. Where are Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, VMWare, RackSpace, Salesforce, even Google who have gone furthest arguably in reporting and reducing their emissions, are not participants.

I have lamented many times on this blog the lack of transparency of Cloud companies and they continue to prove me correct. Unfortunately.

Transparency around energy use and emissions is coming, have no doubt. Cloud companies will eventually have to report this information. They will be dragged into it screaming and kicking, but it will happen. Then we will be able to finally decide which provider to use based not just on price, but also on their impact.

In the meantime, if you are interested in reducing the impact of your Cloud computing, you could do worse than to check out MastodonC – a company that “selects the most efficient and sustainable location for your Hadoop job” and/or Greenqloud – a company offering public compute cloud using only renewable energy to power their cloud (their data centers are based in Iceland where 100% of the electricity comes from hydro and geothermal sources).

Photo Credit Greg and Mellina

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Colt Technology and Verne Global’s dual renewably sourced data centre in Iceland

Icelandic landscape

Iceland’s a funny place. Despite the name, it never actually gets very cold there. The average low temperature in Winter is around -5C (22F) and the summer highs average around 13C (55.5F). Iceland is also unusual in that 100% of its electricity production comes from renewable energy (about 70% from hydro and 30% from geothermal).

I have written here several times about the high carbon cost of cloud computing, so when I received an invitation from Colt Technology to view the new data centre they had built with Verne Global in Iceland, I nearly bit their hand off!

The data centre is built on an 18-hectare (approximately 45-acre) complex west of Reykjavik, just beside Keflav?k Airport. The site is geologically stable and according to Verne:

The facility is situated on the site of the former Naval Air Station Keflavik, a key strategic NATO base for over 50 years and chosen for its extremely low risk of natural disaster. Located well to the west of all of Iceland’s volcanic activity, arctic breezes and the Gulf Stream push volcanic effects away from the Verne Global site and toward Western Europe.

Cold aisle contained racks in Verne Global's Iceland facility

Cold aisle contained racks in Verne Global's Iceland facility

The data centre was built using Colt Telecom’s modular data center design. This is essentially a data centre in a box! The modular data centre is built by Colt, shipped to site, (in this case, it was literally put on a ship and shipped to site – but the modules fit on a standard wide-load 18-wheeler), where it is commissioned. In the case of the Verne Global data centre, the build of the data centre took just 4 months because of the modular nature of the Colt solution, instead of the more typical 18 months. Also, modularity means it will be relatively straightforward to add extra capacity to the site, while keeping up-front data centre development costs down.

The data center has an impressive number of configurable efficiency features built-in. In the Verne Global facility, cold aisle containment is used and it is a wise choice in this environment. The facility uses only outside air for cooling (no chillers) so it makes sense to vent the hot air from the servers into a room being cooled by outside air. In winter, if the outside air is too cold, it can be mixed with hot air from the servers before entering the underfloor space to cool the servers.

The underfloor space is kept free of plenums and obstructions to allow an unimpeded flow of air from the variable speed fans – this minimises the work needed to be done by the fans, increasing their efficiency.

From an energy perspective, though, what makes the site very unique is that it sources its electricity from dual renewable sources (hydro and geothermal). Iceland is in quite a unique situation with its excess of abundant, cheap renewable power. Energy is so cheap in Iceland that aluminium smelting plants locate themselves there to take advantage of the power. These plants require roughly 400-500MW of constant power, so adding even 10 large data centres to the grid there would hardly be noticed on the system!

Another unique aspect of the Icelandic electricity is that because it is renewably sourced, its pricing is predictable (unlike fossil fuels). In fact, the Icelandic electricity provider, Landsvirkjun, offers contracts with guaranteed pricing up to 12 years. Also, the Icelandic grid ranks 2nd in the world for reliability and has the most competitive pricing in Europe (currently offering $43/MWh for 12 years as public offering – with better private offerings potentially available).

Speaking to Verne Global’s Lisa Rhodes, while in Iceland, she told me that because Verne had guaranteed energy pricing from Landsvirkjun for the next 20 years, they would be able to pass this on to Verne’s hosting customers and, in fact, she claimed that hosting in the Verne facility would cost 50-60% of the cost of hosting in the East coast of the US.

On the connectivity front, Colt announced that they were putting a Colt POP in the Verne facility, so it is connected directly into the Colt backbone.

Also, the Emerald Express fibre-optic cable which is due to be commissioned late this year has been designed to support 100x100Gbs on each of its six fibre pairs, which should easily meet any connectivity requirements Iceland should have well into the future.

Interestingly, one of Verne’s Global’s first customers is greenqloud – a company offering green public compute cloud services (an AWS EC2 and S3 drop-in replacement). With this, can we finally say that cloud computing can be green? Unfortunately, with cloud’s propensity to promote consumption of services, no, but at least with Greenqloud, your cloud can have a vastly reduced carbon footprint.

Full disclosure – I had my travel and accommodation paid for to visit this facility. And Colt has a POP in CIX, the data centre I co-founded in Cork before joining GreenMonk.

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Is Cloud Computing Green?

I gave the keynote address at the Digital Trends 2011 event organised by HePIS and CEPIS in Athens recently. My talk was on Cloud Computing’s Green Potential and in my presentation, I claimed that Cloud Computing is NOT Green.

I started the talk by explaining what Cloud Computing is and the many advantages it can bring to companies. However, because none of the Cloud providers are publishing energy figures around Cloud computing, we can’t say whether or not Cloud computing is energy efficient.

I went on to point out that even if Cloud is energy efficient (and we have no proof that it is), that is not the same thing as being Green.

My slides are available on my SlideShare account and a transcript of my talk is here:

Okay, so my talk this morning is on Cloud Computing and its Green Potential. So a quick couple of words about myself.

So my name is Tom Raftery, I work for an industry analyst firm called RedMonk. My area of interest within RedMonk or the area I specialize in is energy and sustainability. We have termed the practice within RedMonk that concentrates on energy and sustainability GreenMonk. So the place that I blog at is at GreenMonk.net.

And a little bit about my past. I worked in an organization called Zenith Solutions back in the 90s and early 2000s, and Zenith Solutions was a software company creating what has now become termed cloud applications. At that time we called them web applications, they were web based software with the database backend online.

Then I worked for a company called Chip Electronics in the early 2000s and Chip Electronics was again a company which created Enterprise Resource Planning, ERP applications which were cloud delivered, at the time we called it Software as a Service. No at the time we called it active service provisions, since become Software as a Service. And I am also a co-founder and Director of CIX, which is a hyper energy efficient data center based in Cork in Ireland. So I know both from the hardware side and the software side.

I mentioned my blog on GreenMonk.net, I am on Twitter and twitter.com/tomraftery. My email address is there, my mobile phone number is there, please don?t ring it now. And this site here, slideshare.net the last line there and I am sorry for the bullet points, I don?t normally use them, but I did just here and in one other slide. slideshare.net is a site where you can upload a presentations.

So, this presentation I am giving this morning, I uploaded it to SlideShare earlier this morning, so it?s already online there at that site and if you go there now you?ll see it has already been viewed over 277 times so far. So, it?s a great site for getting your talks out all available, it?s also downloadable there.

One thing you?ll notice as well about the structure of my talks is a lot of them have images like this, but they also have this bit of text at the bottom which you can?t read, don?t try right now, but what they are is those are links to the source material. So, if at any point you do download the presentation you can go and click on the links, they are clickable links you can click on them and see where I?ve got the information from.

So that?s me, who are you guys?

A couple of questions, so how many people here have deployed applications to the cloud? Not very many. How many plan to? A few more, okay. How many people here think that cloud computing is green? Okay, good few people. Right. I hope to burst that bubble, unlike Nancy who spoke just a minute ago, I am not a, I am not a believer that cloud computing is green and I hope to explain why. I am a huge fan of cloud computing, I have to say, I use it extensively, going back to the slide for a second.

The Chip application, the Zenith stuff, the GreenMonk, Twitter, SlideShare even my email are all cloud delivered. Our organization RedMonk we use Google applications for domains for our email, so my email is cloud delivered as well. So I am a big user of and believer in cloud for lots of things. But I just don?t happen to believe it?s green.

So what is cloud computing? Well at kind of first blush it?s software that?s delivered in a browser, so that?s an very easy definition of it, something we can all kind of sign up to it. It?s a lot more complex than that at various other levels and I?ll go through a couple of those other levels as well, just very briefly to kind of give you that the kind of complexity that?s involved in it, but I am not going to go into any great depth. So it?s also nothing that?s very new, this is the original sign up screen for Hotmail.

Hotmail was an email application developed and sold to Microsoft back in ?97 for $450 million if memory serves. But this was before it was sold to Microsoft, this was the original sign up screen when they launched in July ?96 and it was one of the first widely used Software as a Service or cloud application.

So cloud is nothing new, it keeps getting rebranded, so the cloud name is newish alright, but the delivery mechanism is not that new. It actually harps back to mainframe computing back in the 60s.

So there are several types of cloud computing and the first type, the first level of cloud computing is kind of Software as a Service. That?s where you kind of take your packaged software and convert it into something as I mentioned already delivered in a browser. And I mean you probably are aware of these I mentioned Hotmail and its analogs the Google applications, there is also Zoho, there is social networking the Twitter that I mentioned, SlideShare all these kind of things, they are all Software as a Service.

So they are just basic applications that you access through a browser. But you can go back one level of abstraction from that to where you get to what?s called platform as a service. And don?t worry about these acronyms basically a lot of the times you don?t need to know this stuff, the platform as a service stuff is where you, as I could say, you go back one level of abstraction and you give people a platform on which to deploy cloud applications.

And the kind of platforms that you can get are ones like the Google app engine and Amazon and Microsoft?s Azure, these are the kind of platforms that are available if you want go down that route. Most people don?t need to go there, but if you do that kind of stuff is available as well. And then you can go back one further level of abstraction where you are actually delivering Hardware as a Service and this is called Hardware as a Service or Infrastructure as a Service and both names are valid, HaaS for hardware or IaaS for infrastructure as a service and that?s where you?re delivering stuff like networking, storage, compute, CPU cycles that kind of thing as a service.

And VMware, Rackspace, OpenStack again Amazon with their EC2 and their S3 services are those kinds of types of cloud computing. If that?s a little confusing and I know it can be, this is a slide which is also confusing, but if you actually stop and study it in your own time, you could download this application and if you are interested about it, this is a good way of seeing how the different types of cloud computing stack up as it were.

So over here on the very left, you have your traditional packaged software with the entire stack from networking up through applications where you manage the entire stack on your machine. So that?s the traditional Microsoft Office whatever applications, you do the whole thing.

Over on the other side you got your Software as a Service, something like Google apps or domains or one of these things where the provider the Google or whoever are responsible for the entire stack, all you have is a browser. And then in the middle you have the two other ones, the platform as a service, where the vendor managers up to here and you manage the applications and data or infrastructure where the vendor managers is just this part and you manage the rest.

So that?s the kind of way it stacks up. As I say on the deck itself there is a link down there to where you can find that image if you are interested in checking into it. It?s quite a nice way of seeing the differences between the different types of cloud computing.

And then just to complicate things a little further, there are different deployment mechanisms. You can have private cloud, private cloud is hosted by yourself on your own infrastructure behind your own firewall. You can have public cloud which is what most people are familiar with or you can have a hybrid where you have some stuff private, some stuff public and that?s one that a lot of people are looking at, because it means you can have your data behind your firewall, but the functionality you are accessing it from public. So your stuff remains on premise.

And that?s quite important, because as Nancy alluded to, there can be a lot of issues with the data in cloud computing, because for example if you are a European company do you really want your data hosted on servers in US territories where for example the data privacy laws are a lot more lax. So I have spoken to several European companies who have said categorically they will not use cloud computing if their data is going to be hosted in US territories. It?s only if it?s in the EU and only if they know where in the EU. So you are noticing cloud providers taking that on board and starting to become aware of those issues and while they can?t change US law, they can start providing storage mechanisms that they are guaranteed to be in region.

So that?s cloud computing and the next question we get to is, is this really energy efficient because lots of people say it is and even Nancy alluded to that report from the Carbon Disclosure Project which I?ll blow apart in a minute. They aren?t the only ones Microsoft, Accenture and WSP environment brought out this story in November of last year. And this is the actual title of the story, where they say it shows significant energy in carbon emissions reduction potential from cloud computing and again the link to the report is down there at the bottom.

The difficulties I have with that are several, first is Microsoft are a cloud computing provider so they kind of skin in the game. The second is that, they don?t actually use any hard data, it?s all imputed. And the third is that after months and months of work from all these people the best they could come up with is they could say it has potential. Yeah it has potential to end world hunger and bring on world peace and fix the euro, anything kind of potential. So that?s a non-report.

Cloud computing has phenomenal advantages, don?t get me wrong, I am a big fan. So if you are into traditional IT, you know well that if you are deploying a new application or a new server it?s pain staking, you have to go through an RFP process, a tender process, PO process. You have to put, you have to go to tender and you have to get that — when you have to place the order, the order then can take several weeks from the supplier. When it comes in, it goes into the logistics area, if you got to get the guys in warehousing to tell you where the server is, you have to get the server, you have got to put the company image on the server, you got to install the applications, you got to do testing, you got to patch the server, the list goes on and on. Basically you want to deploy a new server, it?s a process that can take weeks to months.

You deploy a cloud application, there is usually no RFP and no PO process because there is — the capital cost is minimal. So typically the time to deploy for a cloud application shrinks from weeks to months to hours to minutes depending on what you are deploying, so phenomenal, cloud is fantastic for streamlining that kind of stuff.

It?s also great for what?s called dynamic provisioning. So this is the Alexa graph, the website traffic of a website for the Australian Open. The Australian Open is a big tennis competition happens in Australia every January. So you?ll notice 11 months of the year no traffic to the site, come December, January vroom, spike, that?s 2006, 2007, larger spike 2008, larger spike and the spikes keep getting bigger as you go in that direction.

So if you were the website owner for the AustralianOpen.com website you would need to have — if there were no cloud computing options you would need to have servers that could hit and deal with the traffic at this growing spike for 12 months of the year when the traffic is only there one month of the year. But with dynamic provisioning and cloud computing you can use the elasticity of the cloud to turn up the resources assigned to that site as the traffic starts to build up in December and January and then as the traffic falls off, you turn it back down again.

So in that respect cloud computing is fantastic as well, you are not using resources needlessly. You?ve also got the idea of multi-tenancy and if you can?t see what?s in this picture it?s actually a Mini Cooper with 26 people inside in her, EMC sponsored it as the world record attempt to fit people into a Mini Cooper and they fit 26 people into it. So they stuff people into it with multi-tenancy in cloud computing it means you are sharing applications across companies, lots of different companies often competitors are using the same single version of the application.

And that?s fantastic, that adds greater value. You know, you have only one instance of the application which is great as well for updates, updates of the application are instantly deployed. You know, you don?t have to download the latest update and apply it to the test server and make sure it works in the environment, the whole thing, you know, it?s just instantly on.

This is the issue of server utilization which again Nancy referred to, Nancy you stole my talk, come on. So this is a typical graph of server utilization and you can see this the memory part, but this is the server utilization and it?s at zero percent here. And well that?s a bit of a outlier, you?ll often and get in normal server, you?ll often get utilizations in single digits 7, 8% server utilization for traditional servers in data center environments. But with the advent of virtualization and cloud computing you can ramp that up significantly. So that should be quite energy efficient.

Then you have got this kind of outlier thing called chasing the moon, which you may or may not have heard off. It?s one I am kind of found of as an idea, but not many people have deployed it yet. People are kind of talking about it as out there, and what it is, is with cloud computing if you?ve got data centers in say, US, West Coast, another in Northern Europe or Southern Europe, Northern European typically because it?s cooler there and cooler I mean colder not more ?hip?. And you?ve got another data center say somewhere in Asia or Eastern Russia. Then you?ve got the time zones covered about eight hours apart. So if you have an application in those three centers, you can move the compute to where energy is cheapest at any particular point in time. So if you are doing that typically energy is cheapest when it?s in highest supply, when it?s in highest supply and it?s cheapest, its actually, this is on the wholesale markets, it?s actually greenest as well.

So when electricity is at its cheapest, it?s actually also at its greenest that?s ? it?s kind of counter intuitive but I can explain that if any one who is interested later.

So if you move your compute to where the energy and the compute is cheapest at any point in time, it?s typically night time when wind is blowing and at that time you are chasing the moon, you are putting your applications wherever the moon is out, it?s called chasing the moon.

And so it?s something you could only do — something that?s only made possible by the likes of cloud computing. Your information is ubiquitous, it?s wherever you have an internet connection, so your road warriors, your sales people on the road, can access the application while sitting up in the beach.

It also enables a lot more home working, homeshoring, teleworking whatever you want to call it. And people like ATT, IBM, lots of big companies are huge fans of this. IBM reported a couple of years back that 25% of their employees did teleworking and those 25% were saving IBM $700 million a year. That?s significant savings and a lot of that savings comes from a lower real estate footprint and a lower energy footprint because of the lower real estate footprints.

So is it energy efficient or lot of those savings coming from less commuting or from less building stock or are they from offsetting your energy? So if you are working from home you are still burning energy, it?s just not in your company?s building, your company isn?t accounting for it anymore. These are kind of questions we are not sure of, there hasn?t been any definitive studies either way, and it?s difficult anyway because it differs in every company and every geography.

One huge problem I have with cloud computing and people saying that cloud computing is energy efficient is that none of the cloud providers are publishing data around their energy utilization, not one of them. So I often do a kind of a hands up exercise at this point and I don?t know if it?ll work here, because very few people admitted that they were going to be putting stuff in the cloud, but let?s raise hands again. Hands up everyone who has or plan to deploy applications to the cloud? Okay, so keep your hands up, keep your hands up. Now keep your hands up if you know the current energy utilization of the applications you are going to deploy to the cloud or the energy applications you have already deployed to the cloud, if you know how much energy your applications burn, keep your hands up. Okay we got one, anyone else just the one? Good. Okay, keep your hand up, we are not finished. Okay keep your hand up if you know the energy utilization of that application in the cloud. You do, is it a private cloud?

And they are giving you the energy utilization of that?

Okay, I am interested in that because I do a lot of work for SAP and they can never tell me the energy utilization of any of their cloud infrastructure.

I think, okay I must get back to you on that because I — if that is the case it must be very new, because it?s not something they?ve ever shown me before and if they do it it?s often kind of what we call humbligated it?s often — they will give you an average but they won?t tell you exactly what your application and what your users are utilizing which is what you need to know.

So as I say with the possible exception of SAP, most cloud providers do not provide the data. So without that data, we have no way of knowing if our applications are in fact energy efficient in the cloud. Even if they are, energy efficiency is not the same as being green. Just because something is energy efficient does not mean it?s green, and this is a very common mistake that people make.

So what is green? Well I’m also going to quote from the CDC report that Nancy mentioned. And this CDC report, it?s called Cloud Computing – The IT Solution for the 21st Century and again there is a link to it there.

One of the quotes that the CDC put into that was that that a typical food and beverage firm transitioning it?s HR application from dedicated IT to public cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 30,000 metric tons over five years. That sounds good, I buy that, that sounds quite green actually. They also went on though in their executive summary to say allowing companies to maximize performance, drive down costs, reduce inefficiency, and minimize energy use and therefore carbon emissions. So they have made the classic fundamental mistake of thinking that reducing or making something energy efficient makes it green or reduces emissions. There is nothing that says that is the case. I will tell you why?

And by the way Nancy and this is the blog post I wrote on GreenMonk where I explain in significant detail why the CDC report is completely flawed. So there is a link there you can go and have a look.

I will give it to you later, I will give you the link later. So two reasons why that report is deeply flawed. One of them is it?s based on assumptions and they say so in their model, they say their model is based on assumptions and the second is based on metric called PUE. So I?ll get the PUE in a second. PUE is Power Usage Efficiency. Anyone here familiar with the term PUE? Couple are, okay. So I?ll get to in a second. They based their model on this PUE metric, which is a widely used metric. But they have based it on a average PUE across the entire United States which is put out by the EPA, so that?s not really very indicative firstly.

But secondly, PUE the measurement itself, it?s a ratio of the total amount of power used by data center compared to the power deliver to the computer equipment. So the total power delivered to a data center is the power delivered literally to the door of the data center, which goes to power of the lighting, it goes to power the cooling, it goes to power of the UPSs, the whole thing, that?s the total power. And it?s a ratio of that to the amount of power which actually makes to the IT equipment. So the closer your PUE figure is to 1.0, the better.

Now couple of problems with PUE as a metric. The first is there hasn?t traditionally been any standard about where you measure the power. It?s measured at the meter, the power meter, the electricity company power meter but in data centers that is often been measured on the high voltage site, the medium voltage site, or the low voltage site depending on the data center, depending on where they put the meter. And of course if you are measuring out at these different place one data center measures at one place, another at another place you can?t cross compare because you are leaving out the loses that occur in the conversion from high to medium to low voltage.

So right there the lack of standardization that?s been worked on at the moment, and it is getting better, they are start to standardize but traditionally it hasn?t been standardized. So that?s one issue straightaway.

But even more important is, quick look at this graph here, if I have a data center which takes in two megawatts of power and of those two megawatts of power, one megawatt goes to powering the servers, then I have a PUE of 2.0, very simple. However if I realize that my one megawatt isn?t being used very efficiently, and I realize that some of my servers are being under utilized, may be I?ll virtualize some of them and I shut some of them down. Then my power draw from my IT equipment drops to 0.75 a megawatt. My total draw drops to 1.74 and my PUE goes up to 2.33. Remember I said PUE closer to 1.0 means you are more efficient. I?ve actually made it more efficient and my PUE has gone from 2 to 2.3, so it?s a huge problem right there with the PUE metric.

Another issue and I am sorry this is a little bit complex, but I?ll walk it though it again another issue with PUE is it takes no account of carbon. So top line is a typical data center, typical data center in a European country, a European country where the supply of power causes CO2 per kWh that?s not unusual that?s a pretty average figure. So if that typical data center has a PUE of 1.5, just quiet good, then we get 1.5 by 0.5 we get 0.75 kg CO2 per kWh is the IT carbon intensity, is how much the IT equipment is producing in terms of CO2.

So if we have a data center with the a good PUE 1.2 and that good data center is drawing mostly from coal-fired power, so it?s got a supply carbon intensity of 0.8 kilos, the you are — 0.8 by 1.2 means you are producing — even though you have got a good PUE in your data center, you are producing 0.96 kilo CO2 per kWh.

On the other hand if you have got a really bad data center with a PUE of 3, very inefficient data center, PUE of 3 but is fired mostly by renewables. So your carbon intensity on your supply is 0.2, but still it?s not 0 it?s 0.2, it?s significant, there is still carbon being produced per kWh. 0.2 by 3 gives you 0.6, which is significantly less. It?s, you know, 60% of the carbon intensity of the data center with a PUE of 1.2.

So PUE is no indicator whatsoever of how green some thing is, it?s a very bad metric. There is other metric called a CUE the Carbon Usage Efficiency but it is not widely used by the industry unfortunately.

So given that, the report that the CDC produced could just as easily have said that your typical food and beverage firm transitioning HR to a dedicated public cloud could increase CO2 emissions by 30,000, just as valid. They pick the number out of the air and they base it on a flawed metric, so it?s just as valid to say it could increase CO2 as decreased CO2.

And a good example of this in fact is Facebook, Facebook build this lovely new data center in Prineville, Oregon, they opened it early this year. Had an unbelievable PUE coming in around 1.08, highly efficient, they have open sourced it. If you go to opencompute.org you can get the blueprints for building the data center and the list of suppliers, so you can go on build that same data center yourself. They reduced their energy consumption per unit of computing by 38%, that?s fantastic, that?s really good.

Unfortunately, their energy supplier is a company called PacifiCorp. PacifiCorp produces 58% of its power from coal, this is their website, they say it themselves right there. They produce 9.6 million tons of coal from their own mines every year. They also produce another 12% of their electricity from natural gas, so that?s 70% they produce from fossil fuels, plus they also buy 22.5% of their power from other suppliers. Now they don?t say how those other suppliers generate theirs. So they get at least 70 and possibly significantly more of their energy from fossil fuels. So right there Facebook?s really impressive 1.02, sorry 1.08 PUE is blown out of the water by the fact that it?s all produced using carbon or almost all.

To contrast that this is the graph of power production on the Spanish grid. I picked Spain because I happen to live there and you can see that this was taken last Friday, the snap shot and again you can get information from the Red El?ctrica de Espa?a. The red bar here, or bar whatever it is area is coal, comes in around 20%, green one here is wind, the other is, the rest of the renewables put together except water, which is down here.

So on the Spanish grid, carbon intensity comes in around 20% at the moment based on that plus the gases and other 15% sorry. And that?s actually bad compared to the same grid two years ago. The same grid two years ago, coal was coming in single digits here on 9% and the reasons gone from the 9% two years ago to 20% today is because Zapatero, the now former President of the parliament comes from Castile and Le?n which is a coal producing part of Spain and he went to the EU and he petitioned for years to be allowed to give subsidies to the coal miners and the coal production in that part of Spain. And last February, sorry February 2010 he succeeded and they got 4.5 billion Euro in subsidies for producing coal in Spain and that?s a direct result, it?s scandalous.

Anyway that?s either here or there let?s move on. Dublin, I am originally from Cork, so I?ll talk of Ireland for little bit. Dublin has become a European, key European datacenter hub. Most of the big data center providers have significant operations in Dublin. Microsoft have their largest datacenter outside of US in Dublin. It provides the Microsoft Live and Azure services for EMEA. Similarly Amazon are there, Google are there, they all have significant centers there and they are all expanding. Google have announced new expansion as of Microsoft representatives.

Unfortunately, Ireland produces 84% of its electricity from Fossil fuels, that number is falling as it rolls out wind, it was a 87% a couple of years ago, but now its 84%. So that?s not really very green. On the other hand Apple have announced their iCloud service and their iCloud service is currently housed in this datacenter in North Carolina, it?s a photograph of it under construction. Unfortunately this datacenter gets 78% of its energy from Duke Energy who get it from, no they get all of their energy from Duke Energy, Duke Energy get their energy from 78% coal and nuclear.

Coal is obviously really bad, nuclear is also really bad, not just because of the Fukushima reasons, but you got to think as well, nuclear power plants have an enormous water footprint. And that is, it can often be devastating to the environment around them. But Apple have said in fairness to them that they have got a 121 acres site behind them that they are now clearing for scrub to install a solar facility, it will mitigate a little their emissions, a 121 acre solar facility is not going to complete power the plant and it certainly won?t power at night time but it will have at least.

Google are the really interesting player in this field, because Google have gone to extreme lengths to get their carbon footprint down to zero. They have signed power purchase agreements with Wind farms. A power purchase agreement is where you sign on the dotted line with a wind farm or any one in this case it?s wind farms in Google?s case, you sign on the dotted line and you say, for the next X years and in Google?s case its next 20 Years I will take all of your power, all of it.

For wind farms that?s a huge win because that means they can go to investors and say, we?ve got checks rolling in from Google for the next 20 years guaranteed and here is the contract, do you want to invest in us now. So obviously it will help them get investment inward investment. It?s a great win for Google on two fronts, one is they?ve got guaranteed renewable energy and the second is they?ve got guaranteed pricing for their energy for the next 20 years. How many people can say they know what the price of their electricity is going to be in 20 years?

So they have done it in a number of wind farms, this one is in Iowa, 114 megawatts, this one is in Oklahoma, another 100 megawatts. And they?ve gone to incredible lengths and this is the slide I mentioned earlier with all the bullet points and I?m really sorry this slide is more bullet points than I normally have in entire talks. So there is nine bullet points in this but it gives you an idea of the investments that Google have made in renewable energy.

The Potter Drilling one is for geothermal, Makani Power is for high altitude wind power. Solar City, the Atlantic Wind connection, that?s a — I can?t remember how long it is, it?s a massive offshore wind farm off the east coast of the US and they?ve invested in the infrastructure of that, they own a percentage of the infrastructure in that, in total Google have invested $850 million on renewables. So if anyone could be slightly green I guess in cloud it would be Google.

Having said that though, there is lot of having said that in this presentation I am sorry about that, it?s a complex area. Jevons paradox, William Stanley Jevons is an economist in the 19th century in England. And he realized that as steam engines were being made more efficient in burning coal, as they were getting more efficient at burning coal the amount of coal being burnt was actually going up not down. It was kind of counter intuitive but how it worked was as stream engines become more efficient the price dropped, more people bought them, more coal was burnt. And it?s similar with cloud computing. As cloud computing goes and starts taking off in adoption the resources that are used actually go up not down.

So cloud computing leads to an increase in consumption and this also then Parkinson?s Law and a curare of Parkinson?s Law which says data expands to fill the space available for storage, the more storage you have the quicker it fills up, you all know that. And a good example of that is when Gmail started in 2004 Hotmail had a 2 meg limit on the size of your inbox. Yahoo at 4 meg and gmail said, I am offering one gigabyte, blew them out of the water and suddenly they had catch up and go to one gigabyte, Google is now at 7.5 giga byte and they allow you to send emails of 25 megabyte, single email 25 megabytes.

So, also a nice quote I got from Infochimps? Flip Kromer and this really characterizes how cloud computing can promote consumption. And Flip said it very well when he said, EC2, which is one of Amazon?s offerings in cloud means anyone with a $10 bill can rent a 10 machine cluster with a terabyte of distributed storage for eight hours and because it costs virtually nothing to do it and because anyone can do it — it happens all the time. So that?s not very green.

You?re confused yet? So what if ultimate irony you had cloud delivered green software, Hara, Nootrol, SAP?s Carbon Impact OnDemand, these are all carbon management applications which are cloud delivered. Now, I am really confused I don?t know if they are green or not. Microsoft Iron Earth, cloud delivered using the Azure platform for managing air quality, water quality, noise pollution, that kind of thing, I think my head just exploded.

So my conclusion from all this is that cloud computing has a significant number of advantages, but being green isn?t one of them. One last thing if you are deploying stuff to the cloud, this is not really how you want to do it. Thanks very much.

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3 easy steps to see if your Cloud solution is energy efficient

Cloud

I’ve written a number of posts questioning whether Cloud Computing is Green or Energy Efficient but to be a little more helpful, here is a simple test you can do to see if your Cloud Computing delivered applications are yielding energy efficiency gains for you:

  1. Have you moved some of your applications to a Cloud provider? – if “Yes” go to step 2 (if no, then cloud is not saving you energy)
  2. Do you know what the energy consumption* of that application was before moving it to the cloud? – if “Yes”, go on to step 3 (if no, then you have no way to tell if your Cloud solution is saving you energy)
  3. Do you know the energy consumption of your application after it has moved to the Cloud? – if “Yes” subtract 3 from 2 and if the answer is positive then Cloud is saving you energy (if no, then you have no way to tell if your Cloud solution is saving you energy)

*Obviously, the units of energy consumption in steps 2 and 3 need to be the same for this to work. To make sure they are, try contacting your Cloud provider before moving your applications to the Cloud and asking them what their method for measuring energy consumption is. If they tell you (more than likely they won’t) you can match your measurement units in step 2 to theirs.

Unfortunately, as Cloud Computing providers are, as yet, not publishing energy consumption information, for now, this only works as a thought experiment. However with coming regulatory requirements around reporting of energy consumption, Cloud Providers may be forced to reveal this information.

It is only when Cloud providers detail their energy consumption information that we will be able to say whether Cloud Computing is energy-efficient, or not.

Photo credit kevindooley

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Is Cloud Computing Green yet?

Clouds

Back in 2008 I wrote a post asking how Green is Cloud Computing?

Back then I didn’t really have an answer to the question. I mean logic would lead you to think that Cloud Computing leads to more efficiently run computers, so therefore it HAS to be Green, right? However, at the time, none of the Cloud providers were publishing their energy utilisation numbers, so no conclusions based on solid data could be drawn.

Fast forward from 2008 to now. How many Cloud providers are now publishing their energy utilisation info? Oh that’s right, none of them are.

There is a move by some Amazon shareholders calling on the company to prepare a report that will assess the impact of climate change on Amazon and make it public – but there is no guarantee that even if Amazon vote to do this, that they will include detailed energy consumption data.

One thing which might force this issue is a requirement for organisations to report emissions data – until that happens though, if the last three years is anything to go by, it doesn’t look like Cloud providers will be publishing their efficiency data any time soon.

What we need to see from Cloud providers is data in the form of watts/compute cycle so we can cross-compare their efficiency, and compare it to alternative infrastructures. This is something they have been singularly reluctant to report on to-date. One has to wonder why. Could it be that, in fact, Cloud Computing is hugely inefficient?

And even if Cloud Computing is shown to be more efficient, as Simon Wardley is fond of pointing out, Jevon’s Paradox, may mean that we end up using much more of a more efficient resource, paradoxically increasing energy consumption, which is definitely NOT Green.

So what do you think? Is Cloud Computing Green Yet? And if not, will it ever be?

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Photo credit supertin

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HP’s shrinking wallflower attitude may not be Sustainable!

HP CEO L?o Apotheker addressing the HP Summit

So I wrote a post the other day entitled Have HP?s senior executives lost interest in Sustainability? after attending a HP event in San Francisco. It was a little unfair because I concentrated on the lack of mentions of Sustainability by senior management on the first day of the event while leaving out the fact that I had interesting discussions with people involved in sustainability initiatives within HP the following day.

One of those I talked to at the event, Deb Lyons, was concerned enough by my piece that she went to the trouble of emailing me some of HP’s more impressive Green initiatives:

  1. HP published a fascinating paper [PDF] to quantify the carbon savings associated with switching from analog to digital printing and came up with a savings of somewhere between 114-251 MMtCO2 eq per annum (MMt CO2 is million metric tonnes of CO2) – similar to the savings which would be achieved by a broad implementation of lighting automation or extensive implementation of telecommuting!
  2. When printing is absolutely necessary, HP have comprehensive paper conservation and sourcing policies which include “a goal that 40 percent or more of the HP branded paper sold will be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified or have more than 30 percent post-consumer waste content by the end of 2011″, an Eco Printing Assessment for customers and a reduction of paper shipped “in the box”
  3. While HP has yet to release its 2010 CSR report, its 2009 one is online and, in fairness, it is one of the better CSR reports produced by a tech co. (though it has a long way to go to catch-up to SAP’s 2010 Sustainability Report, which was released this morning!).
  4. I referenced the fact in my previous post that HP is becoming a devices company (between desktops, laptops, and more recently tablets and smartphones) so it is heartening to see HP have comprehensive policies around sourcing conflict minerals in Africa
  5. and finally, HP announced the other day that it had exceeded its target of reducing the energy footprint of its products by 40% by the end of 2011 and now HP products are 50% more energy efficient than they were five years ago. The release from HP went on to assert that “if all makes and models of printers, notebook and desktop PCs, displays and servers shipped in 2005 were recycled and replaced with new HP energy-efficient models, customers could save approximately $10.4 billion in energy costs, and avoid more than 40 million metric tons of CO2 emissions within a year” – a pretty impressive numbers!

Another release Deb pointed out to me was an announcement that HP are helping Shell extract oil and gas more efficiently from the ground – personally I believe that any technology which helps increase the amount of fossil fuels we burn should be criminalised, not praised, but that’s just me!

So, leaving aside the oil and gas announcement, HP’s green credentials do appear to be completely genuine, laudable even.

Kudos to HP for these and their other Green initiatives – however, I still believe it was a mistake for their executives not to have them as a theme running through their talks. I understand the HP thinking that “Sustainability is part of our DNA, so much so that we take it for granted that it is built-in to everything we do” – I’m paraphrasing liberally. But, the issue is that if your executives are not talking about sustainability, your stakeholders may not be as convinced about your commitment to sustainability. If Sustainability was left out of the talks because there was a lot of content to be worked in which had to be prioritised, just how far down the list of HP’s priorities does Sustainability lie? From talking to HP, I know it is not far down at all, but listening to their executives, you would not get that impression.

HP has a messaging problem around Sustainability. It isn’t that they don’t do Sustainability, it is just that they seem to be shy about talking about it. With the rise and rise of Ethical Consumerism, this shrinking wallflower attitude may not be Sustainable!

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Photo credit Tom Raftery

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Just how green is cloud computing?

Clouds

Photo credit tipiro

Cloud computing may not be as Green as you think.

I mentioned previously that I gave a keynote presentation at the Green IT Summit in Dublin last week.

In the question and answers session after the talk, Sean Baker asked about cloud computing and whether I thought companies using cloud computing weren’t simply outsourcing their emissions.

As Gordon Smith picked up in a piece for SiliconRepublic.com, I replied that I

was ?quite sceptical? about this issue. ?None of the cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft or IBM are publishing metrics at all. Intuitively you have to think that because you?re outsourcing that to someone of that scale that they?re being more efficient but we?ve no way of knowing. Frankly, that?s worrisome. I don?t know why they?re not publishing it and I wish they would,?

This is no sudden realisation on my part. In fact, I have been concerned about Cloud Computing’s Green credentials for some time now as you can see from a series of Tweets (here, here and here, for instance) I posted on this issue in early to mid 2009.

It is vital that cloud providers start publishing their energy metrics for a number of reasons. For one, it is a competitive differentiator. But perhaps more importantly, in the absence of any provider numbers, one has to start wondering if cloud computing is in fact Green at all.

IBM, for example, are not known for being shy when given an opportunity to talk up their Green initiatives. However, on cloud, they are conspicuously silent. The same is true for Amazon, Microsoft, SalesForce and Google.

I’m not sure why cloud providers are not publishing their energy metrics but if I had to guess I would say it is related to concerns around competitive intelligence. However this is not a sustainable position (if you’ll pardon the pun).

As the regulatory landscape around emissions reporting alters and as organisations RFP’s are tending to demand more details on emissions, cloud providers who refuse to provide energy-related numbers will find themselves increasingly marginalised.

So is cloud computing Green?

I put that question toSimon Wardley, cloud strategist for Canonical in this video I recorded with him last year and he said no, cloud computing is very definitely not Green.

To be honest, until cloud providers start becoming more transparent around their utilisation and consumption numbers there is really no way of knowing whether cloud computing is in any way Green at all.

You should follow me on twitter here.

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My “Green IT – driving efficiency, sustainability and enabling efficient working practices” presentation

Conference organising company iQuest contacted me last year to ask me to deliver a keynote presentation at their Green IT Summit.

The event took place in Dublin yesterday and my keynote talk entitled “Green IT – driving efficiency, sustainability and enabling efficient working practices” is above.

The organisers prudently decided that they didn’t want to take the risk of any of their international speakers not making it to the event because of the ashcloud. This would have left them with a hole in the schedule at the last minute so they contracted the services of OnlineMeetingRooms and three of the presenters were able to present to the audience in Dublin, over an online video connection, without having to travel!

The title I was asked to present on was quite broad and I had 30 minutes to try cover it all so I had to go at quite a clip but the feedback has been extremely positive so it seemed to work out very well.

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How to Reduce Energy Consumption in Retail: Change The Font On Your Cash Register


Yesterday I got an update from an ERP company called Epicor that primarily serves the mid-market. While I am not an ERP specialist its always interesting, as a middleware guy, to get a view from the app side. Greenmonk for obvious reasons also takes a keener view than the RedMonk mothership in applications in areas such as carbon accounting, energy and utility management.

Epicor seems to be doing quite well in the down economy, but I was most interested when Adam Prince, senior Director of Product Marketing started talking to Epicor’s Green Retail strategy. While any number of IT vendors are now all over the sustainability opportunity in their marketing and product management very few have joined the dots around explicit vertical industry opportunities. That said, here is a white paper from IBM and Intel on sustainable retail ops.

One of our clients, StreamServe, pitches paper reduction to utilities. Given how much paper utilities create this is a compelling vertical-focused story.

But Epicor introduced another interesting idea to me. Reducing carbon footprint by changing the font on Retail point of sale (POS) terminals. Seriously. Less ink and less printing means less power. Some might say the savings would be too small to measure, but actually in cash terms the efficiencies add up pretty fast. Epicor’s advisory and tech works with IBM and NCR POS gear.

Epicor Green Retail is a services-led approach: consultants and business analysts come in to review the business’s energy consumption, review current systems configurations, and make suggestions about mechanisms to reduce the energy footprint of stores.

While changing fonts is only part of the opportunity around POS, the overall numbers appear compelling.

According to Lynne Davidson, vice president, Services and Support for Epicor Retail:

“Based on calculations from the U.S. Department of Energy, retailers can achieve 500-600 kWh or an average of $70 of power savings per register/device per year. If applied to 500 registers, in three years this could translate to roughly $101,000 in savings, a reduction in CO2 emissions by 60 tons and, from an environmental standpoint, is equivalent to planting 125 acres of trees.”

Another thing to think about then – small changes do add up. Some sustainability initiatives may involve whole new supply chains – others are as simple as changing a font. Oh yeah- the retailer will save some money on ink too. ;-)

photo courtesy of NCR.com. I would have used an IBM image, but they. are. so. miserable. Hey IBM Retail marketing people POS doesn’t have to be monochrome!

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Sustainability/Energy Agenda Accelerates

People ask about greenwashing and vendor hypocrisy. I don’t see it like that. If resources are being applied to managing electricity demand, or addressing broader sustainability issues, that is all to the good. The space is heating up almost as fast as the planet.

Today IBM announced a swathe of services and tools, and is clearly beginning to tie together its various IT energy management strands. Thus for example, it touts data center efficiency:

IBM Systems Director Active Energy Manager (AEM) tracks energy consumption in data centers and helps customers monitor power usage and make adjustments to improve efficiency and reduce costs. The new software allows IT managers to control — even set caps on — their energy use for servers, storage, and networking as well as the air conditioning and power management systems that keep the data center running.

IBM is also pushing into certification. I think the firm needs to think bigger though and to take on bigger challenges (not often I say that). Data center energy optimisation is interesting, but IBM should be looking at driving power improvements in supply chains, manufacturing plants, building central heating and so on. IT currently accounts for around 3% of world energy consumption. Lets get to work on the other 97%.

Nortel is going after Cisco “ruthlessly” based on better power performance of its gear. This is the most agressive use of a energy benchmarking I have seen so far in the industry. Great – bring on competition on the basis of power consumption.

I am liking SAS pitching its BI tools for the triple bottom line. with Global Reporting Initiative indicators and KPIs based relating to environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Excellent! I need to go chat to SAS – a very interesting privately held firm with a real culture of innovation and a high R&D budget to match. I wonder if they talked about this today at the

Boston is going green, which I am sure Stephen will appreciate.

With the triple bottom line in mind The FT reported yesterday that “The German government plans to make the country’s first trademark for good business behaviour, as a complement to “Made in Germany” as a respected global brand.”

Today my old mucker Dennis Howlett has been in Boston with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and a number of software companies discussing sustainability rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Next week at Sapphire 2008 in Orlando, SAP is hosting AccountAbility,  (BSR), and the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) in launching a dialogue on sustainability. I have been involved in planning, web 2.0 support, and will join the dialogue in Berlin. I’d like to see SAP in future set up industry vertical sustainability groups based on its successful Industry Value Network program, for best practice sharing. James?

GreenMonk appreciates change needs to be top down, as well as bottom up. All this of activity is goodness. We need to move on, and watching CSR evolve from a PR initiative to one driving corporate strategy is pleasing.

Climate Change
Creative Commons License photo credit: openDemocracy