This afternoon, I was reading about Greenpeace’s rant about cloud computing contributing to climate change and here. I’ve seen cloudwashing as a marketing and hype tactic, but this is the first time I’ve seen it as an environmental cause.
I don’t think that anyone can really argue that it’s not better to use renewable power sources wherever possible. It’s also quite interesting to me that there’s such a difference in the percentage of renewable energy available from different physical locations. I also agree that Facebook’s siting decision for their Oregon data center is peculiar, given all the hype about the green-ness (greenocity?) of the facility. On the other hand, there are a few things that Greenpeace is WAY out to lunch on.
I’m a bit confused about the idea that cloud computing data center operators can somehow pressure or force power suppliers to change their mix of generating facilities. I know that Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are pretty much the 900lb gorillas of the industry and they can drive a lot of things (including buffaloing states into giving them massive tax breaks for job creation that never materializes). But how in the world do they force the local power co to do anything?
The next thing is, if they’re going to single out cloud computing as the problem, let’s have some numbers on just cloud computing alone, not mixed in with any other data center services. Cloud computing is a problem compared to just what, exactly?
It’s certainly true the demand for cloud computing services is growing at an enormous rate and that the power being consumed by cloud computing services is growing along with it. It’s also true that, assuming a conservative ratio of 10:1 for virtualization, cloud computing has and will continue to slow the energy growth required to service this demand compared to the bad old days of underutilized dedicated servers for everything, not only in terms of the gross reduction in servers required but the reduced energy requirements for the entire facility. Certainly makes criticizing cloud computing as not green sound pretty ridiculous.
The real issue here isn’t cloud computing or the increase in demand for cloud computing services, or even whether the data center operators can (by some unknown mechanism) force the power co to change its generating mix. The real issue is the massive corporate tax break giveaways from the states that skew the economics and entice these facilities to areas with lousy power portfolios. When it comes right down to it, the dollar talks the loudest.
Any way you slice it, cloud computing is working to mitigate a problem not of it’s making. Focus on the real problem and stop blaming something that’s actually helping.