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Will cloud providers have to think green in the future?

Environmental issues have been put to one side in recent years but it may be time to think green – will cloud play a part?

With all the recent economic issues, carbon omissions and electricity usage has dropped from the list of priorities for most organisations. But as businesses start to recover, and the global economy as a whole picks up, the costs associated with running infrastructure and their environmental impact will again become headline news. Now that the demand for services has began to rise rapidly again, especially within the emerging markets, and more and more IT hardware being deployed in data centres underlines the need for a renewed focused in this area.

Electrical power needed to run today’s high performance servers is not the full story. In fact the non-IT devices that consume datacentre power, including transformers, UPS’s, power-wiring, fans, air-conditioning, pumps, humidifiers and lighting, actually consume more power than the servers they are there to support. Virtually all the power entering a datacentre ultimately ends up as heat. Unfortunately the vast majority of hardware devices have been designed to provide maximum performance and functionality with little regard for wider environmental issues. Cooling accounts for up to 50 percent of a datacentre’s power consumption, therefore there needs to be a new focus on how providers can improve the efficiency in how they deliver their IT services.

It’s not just the utility costs within in the server estates that organisations need to consider, the far greater issue is the ever-growing amounts of data that businesses and individuals worldwide create and store is having a huge impact on CO2 levels. Along with these commonly know areas of concern is the new and, for me, even more important focus, that of where the power that’s powering your cloud is ultimately sourced. Recent surveys by Gartner are showing that that sustainable business practices will be a top five priority for more than 60% of Western European and North American chief executive officers in the year to come. Gartner’s Research Vice President Simon Mingay stated: “Sustainability is no longer a ‘soft’ and tangential aspect to organisation performance. A sustainable approach to business activities is generating tangible business benefits for organisations today, through a combination of operational efficiencies and market growth opportunities”.

Greenpeace’s recently published report – How clean is your cloud? - shows the global focus on the efficiency level of your provider is already becoming a major discussion point. I think we will see companies seeking ways to display their green credentials in an effort to differentiate themselves and show compliance. Cloud can play a big part in this, but like a lot of things in technology, not all clouds are as green as each other. The refocus on the need to be greener will, I believe, create a new breed of cloud platforms from both established providers but also a new a breed of providers.

These new providers will leverage greater levels of efficiency, datacentre facilities that are connected to renewal sources of power, as well as operate on power sensitive technologies such as low voltage CPU’s and memory, including storing data in highly de-duped and compressed environments that are underpinned by completely solid state disk (SSD) systems. All this will, of course, be managed by modern power management technologies and techniques. Initiatives such as The Green Grid, which are global consortiums dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in datacentres and business computing ecosystems, are already promoting methods for providers to ensure they are efficient as possible such as their Data Centre Maturity Model Assessment Tool, which touches upon every aspect of the datacentre including power, cooling, compute, storage, and networking. It also covers the current best practices and a 5-year roadmap for the industry.

These new efficiency focused technologies and techniques are what organisations that want to adhere to a sustainable approach to their business activities are looking for, most of the established providers have a lot of work to do to meet these new, but rapidly, growing business aspirations.

By Julian Box, Posted 9th July 2012.

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