|By Paul Miller||
|July 20, 2012 07:45 AM EDT||
Although sometimes portrayed as a big computer in the sky, the reality of cloud computing is far more mundane. Clouds run on physical hardware, located in data centres, connected to one another and to their customers via high speed networks. All of that hardware must be powered and cooled, and all of those offices must be lit. Whilst many data centre operators continue to make welcome strides toward increasing the efficiency of their buildings, machines and processes, these advances remain a drop in the ocean next to the environmental implications of choices made about power source. With access to good information, might it be possible for users of the cloud to make choices that save themselves money, whilst at the same time saving (a bit of) the planet?
Greenpeace has consistently drawn attention to the importance of energy choices in evaluating the environmental credentials of data centres, with 2011′s How Dirty Is Your Data? report continuing to polarise arguments after more than a year. The most efficient modern data centres deploy an impressive arsenal of tricks to save energy (and therefore money), and to burnish their green credentials. They use the most efficient modern processors, heat offices with waste server heat, cool servers with water from the toilets and the sea, or keep air conditioning costs low by opening the building when it’s cool outside. But analysis from London’s Mastodon C suggests that these efforts, although laudable, typically trim only a few percentage points from a data centre’s environmental impact. According to Mastodon C CEO and co-founder Francine Bennett, a whopping 61% of a data centre’s environmental footprint can be attributed to choosing dirty power sources like coal. Efficient data centre design is to be welcomed, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that efficient data centres are necessarily green data centres. The corollary is also true, but if the figures are to be believed it has less serious consequences for the planet.
Dirty – and finite – power sources such as oil, coal, and gas remain the mainstay of power generation in most countries. According to figures from the Energy Information Administration in the United States, 37% of US energy consumption in 2010 was from ‘oil and other liquids,’ 21% was from coal, 9% was nuclear, 25% was gas, 1% was liquid biofuels, and only 7% was from renewables. More recent data suggests little change in the US’ spread of energy sources, although other countries are less reliant on coal. 2009 statistics (page 7) from the International Energy Agency suggest that coal accounts for 19.7% of consumption amongst OECD countries. More worryingly, although coal accounts for only 21% of consumption in the US, it has a disproportionate impact upon carbon emissions (a metric for which the US tops the table). Looking at 2010′s figures for carbon dioxide emissions directly attributable to power generation, coal’s 21% contribution to the consumption figure is responsible for 80% of the emissions total. By 2012 that has improved a little, to a mere 78%. Every small move away from coal has a large downstream effect on carbon emissions.
So data centres should just stop using coal then, right? That’s certainly what Greenpeace wants. But the picture is, of course, not quite that simple. Data centres require significant up-front investment, often years before the first customer pays anyone any money. Grants, incentives, and inward investment programmes may all lead data centre builders to choose otherwise odd locations for their new facilities. Data centre operators need power that is predictable, reliable, and affordable. They often simply draw most of that power from the utility grid, which will get its energy from a variety of suppliers. Offsets from planting a few trees or selling electricity generated by the windmills on your roof does nothing significant to compensate for the megawatts you’re sucking down from your closest coal-fired power station. As Amazon’s James Hamilton noted last week, data centres often want or need to be situated within easy reach of population centres. Bandwidth matters, so much so that it sometimes makes business sense to pay for cooling a data centre in a desert. Renewables such as solar, wind, and biofuels are good for carbon emissions, but can have other less welcome consequences as carbon-capturing forests and food-producing farmland are cleared to make way for solar arrays, windmills and oil palm plantations. Geothermal power is abundant, clean and almost free, but often a long way from prospective customers, and tainted by (unfair) association with geological instability. No one wants their data centre engulfed by a lava flow.
Data centres are big investments, amortised over many years. Their locations are selected for a whole host of reasons, of which the greenness of the electricity supply is only one. Some data centre providers will make much of their greenness, and may even see a business opportunity to charge a premium price that helps their customers feel good about themselves. Others say as little as possible, either because they don’t think we’ll like the truth or because (they say) no one is asking them the question.
But many users of these data centres have more room for manoeuvre. They have a choice, and maybe they just need enough information to let them exercise that choice wisely.
Some jobs will always need to be kept close, down the fattest, shortest, fastest pipe you can find. In low latency trading, for example, the speed of light presents a bottleneck. Other jobs might need to run in (or avoid) specific geographies. European data protection rules, financial and healthcare regulations in many countries, and most governments’ sensitivity about clandestine snooping on their activities are all reasons that have been used to place data in one place rather than another. A third class of jobs might need to run on one cloud rather than another. They’re optimised to utilise the features of a particular cloud provider, or they require an operating system or libraries or granular controls that only certain providers support. But even in each of these cases, there is often an element of choice. More than one data centre is easily accessible to a Wall Street trader. More than one cloud provider satisfies US/European Safe Harbor Provisions. Almost every significant cloud infrastructure provider offers mechanisms to choose one of their data centres over another. And then there’s the (far larger?) class of jobs that could run anywhere they can find a Windows or Linux virtual machine. For them, the choices are many and varied. And in a big data context, where a single job might spin up thousands of machines, those choices have real – measurable – environmental implications.
And that’s where some of the work being done by Mastodon C comes in. By gathering real data on climate (which is responsible for 20% of environmental footprint), power source (up to 61%) and server power usage, and adding educated estimates regarding efficiency initiatives inside the data centre, the company can tell you where the greenest place to run a compute job right now will be. Unseasonably cold in Singapore this week? Send your jobs to Asia. Sun visits Dublin for the day? Maybe avoid Ireland until the inevitable happens.
Cloud developers are creatures of habit. They’ll take default settings. They’ll send jobs to the same Region they used last time. And all of that means they tend to use Amazon… and they tend to use Amazon’s US-EAST region, in Virginia.
Mastodon C offers a web tool to display current figures on the CO2 emissions attributable to servers in different data centres around the world. Today, the tool shows figures for Iceland’s Greenqloud and IaaS giant Amazon, but even that offers some useful insight. As Francine Bennett notes, the vast majority (possibly 70%) of Amazon jobs run in the company’s Virginia data centre. When Virginia’s cool (which it rarely is during the summer months), this data centre’s not that bad, but when temperatures begin to rise only sun-drenched Dublin (erm…) and monsoon-gripped Singapore score more poorly on the emissions scale. Amazon’s Oregon data centre costs exactly the same as Virginia, but emissions are typically far lower. So if latency isn’t a principal concern (and it often isn’t for a big data job that’s left to get on with churning through a pile of data in an S3 bucket), and your data is already going to be processed in the United States, why not send it to green Oregon by default, instead of soot-stained Virginia?
Amazon’s most expensive facility, in Brazil, is even greener than Oregon, but the price puts a lot of potential customers off. So much so that spot prices for the site are often remarkably low. So if your compute jobs are amenable to running (and being killed from time to time) on a spot instance, Sao Paolo is also worth a look.
Greenqloud and AWS, of course, are only part of the cloud infrastructure picture. Bennett says that the company is keen to include similar data for other significant cloud providers such as Rackspace and Microsoft. Rather than predict data centre efficiency figures as they’ve done for Amazon, Bennett says they’re keen to work with the cloud providers directly, and to incorporate actual measurements from inside the data centres into the model.
Mastodon C is also about to release an API to the model behind the pretty UI, which developers (or cloud management companies like Rightscale) can then incorporate into their own code. Why couldn’t a big data job simply place itself in the greenest location at run-time?
The environment is not the only consideration in deciding where to send compute jobs. But if tools like Mastodon C’s can shine an accurate light on the financial and environmental costs of different data centres, then it seems inevitable that people will begin to pay attention. Not (immediately), perhaps, the corporate CIO in his big BMW. But the hipster founders of the next Facebook, the next Zynga, and the next Google, with their Teslas and Nests? Surely they’d be quick to embrace the means to get their computing done just as fast, just as cheaply, but greener?
Finally, there’s the subtext hidden between all the graphs and statistics that Mastodon C can show. Carbon emissions from data centres fluctuate with oil prices, the weather, and more. And those fluctuations mean that the price a data centre owner pays to run a given server for a given time fluctuates too. But, as a customer, you don’t see those price fluctuations. You pay your $0.64 to run a virtual machine in Amazon’s Virginia data centre, regardless of whether they’ve had to turn the aircon on or not. It’s 33°C there as I type, so they probably have.
At what point – if ever – would a data centre provider consider reflecting some of this variation in the actual price they charge? Would it be a transparent, fair, and honest way to pass on their true costs, or an unpredictable nightmare that would make any sort of long-term planning impossible?
You often have a choice about where you do your computing. Habit and laziness perhaps mean you don’t always exercise that choice, but maybe a visit to Mastodon C’s web dashboard will be enough to make you place your next cloud job somewhere other than the default.
What do you think? Are carbon footprints and temperature graphs and the rest something that cloud customers can and should concern themselves with? Do our small actions matter, or is it easier to just leave all of this to the people who run big data centres?
- Is cloud computing green? (greenerideal.com)
- Big Data Goes Green (renewableenergyworld.com)
- Data Centre Efficiency – There Is No Magic Measure (techweekeurope.co.uk)
- Apple promises to free cloud from coal but it’s still no diamond, laments Greenpeace (siliconrepublic.com)
- Amsterdam Data Centre Cooled By Groundwater (techweekeurope.co.uk)
- HP’s energy efficient data centre (bbc.co.uk)
- Apple, Challenged By Greenpeace, Says It Has A Plan To Run Greener Data Centers (forbes.com)
- Cloud Computing: Google Apps cloud has a relatively high carbon intensity (greenmonk.net)
SYS-CON Events announced today that O'Reilly Media has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption...
Jun. 3, 2015 01:30 PM EDT Reads: 2,106
ProfitBricks has an early preview of its new Docker hosting platform. The ProfitBricks Docker platform enables its customers to build fully-portable applications within the ProfitBricks cloud. Unlike other Docker platforms, ProfitBricks’ Docker provides developers and system administrators with a platform with dedicated resources that autoscales the Docker hosts. Early access customers will be able to utilize up to 2,500 CPU core hours as part of ProfitBricks’ early access Docker preview.
Jun. 3, 2015 01:30 PM EDT Reads: 693
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding bu...
Jun. 3, 2015 01:15 PM EDT Reads: 5,335
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Jun. 3, 2015 01:15 PM EDT Reads: 3,187
SYS-CON Events announced today that SUSE, a pioneer in open source software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. SUSE provides reliable, interoperable Linux, cloud infrastructure and storage solutions that give enterprises greater control and flexibility. More than 20 years of engineering excellence, exceptional service and an unrivaled partner ecosystem power the products and support that help ...
Jun. 3, 2015 01:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,228
It’s no news that microservices are one of the top trends, if not the top trend, in application architectures today. Take large monolithic applications which are brittle and difficult to change and break them into smaller manageable pieces to provide flexibility in deployment models, facilitating agile release and development to meet today’s rapidly shifting digital businesses. Unfortunately, with this change, application and infrastructure management is more complex due to size and technology c...
Jun. 3, 2015 01:15 PM EDT Reads: 229
IBM has acquired Blue Box Group, Inc., a managed private cloud provider built on OpenStack. Customers benefit from the ability to more easily deploy workloads across hybrid cloud environments. Financial details were not disclosed. Enterprises are seeking ways to embrace all types of cloud to address a wide range of workloads. Today's announcement reinforces IBM's commitment to deliver flexible cloud computing models that make it easier for customers to move to data and applications across cloud...
Jun. 3, 2015 01:15 PM EDT Reads: 871
Many people recognize DevOps as an enormous benefit – faster application deployment, automated toolchains, support of more granular updates, better cooperation across groups. However, less appreciated is the journey enterprise IT groups need to make to achieve this outcome. The plain fact is that established IT processes reflect a very different set of goals: stability, infrequent change, hands-on administration, and alignment with ITIL. So how does an enterprise IT organization implement change...
Jun. 3, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,551
"Cloud consumption is something we envision at Solgenia. That is trying to let the cloud spread to the user as a consumption, as utility computing. We want to allow the people to just pay for what they use, not a subscription model," explained Ermanno Bonifazi, CEO & Founder of Solgenia, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Jun. 3, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 4,165
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises a...
Jun. 3, 2015 12:30 PM EDT Reads: 3,267
The 5th International DevOps Summit, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo – being held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the...
Jun. 3, 2015 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 5,357
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading in...
Jun. 3, 2015 12:15 PM EDT Reads: 3,860
Containers Expo Blog covers the world of containers, as this lightweight alternative to virtual machines enables developers to work with identical dev environments and stacks. Containers Expo Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Bookmark Containers Expo Blog ▸ Here Follow new article posts on Twitter at @ContainersExpo
Jun. 3, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,808
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
Jun. 3, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 3,041
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Jun. 3, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 4,657
There are standards for making sure the information is safe in transit (SSL) and when stored (PCI, SOC, ISO), but where are the standards around the surface area that APIs represent? We want to expose our data, but not the wrong data and never to the wrong people. APIs are now part of our front-line defense layer and we need to treat it with the same concern and specificity as we do any other security risk. Two types of APIs dominate the landscape: SOAP and REST web services. SOAP, while impl...
Jun. 3, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,521
I read an insightful article this morning from Bernard Golden on DZone discussing the DevOps conundrum facing many enterprises today – is it better to build your own DevOps tools or go commercial? For Golden, the question arose from his observations at a number of DevOps Days events he has attended, where typically the audience is composed of startup professionals: “I have to say, though, that a typical feature of most presentations is a recitation of the various open source products and compo...
Jun. 3, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,267
This is the final installment of the six-part series Microservices and PaaS. It seems like forever since I attended Adrian Cockroft's meetup focusing on microservices. It's actually only been a couple of months, but much has happened since then: countless articles, meetups, and conference sessions focusing on microservices have been delivered, many meetings and design efforts at companies moving towards a microservices-based approach have been endured, and five installments of this blog series ...
Jun. 3, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 3,447
Virtualization is everywhere. Enormous and highly profitable companies have been built on nothing but virtualization. And nowhere has virtualization made more of an impact than in Cloud Computing, the rampant and unprecedented adoption of which has been the direct result of the wide availability of virtualization software and techniques that enabled it. But does the cloud actually require virtualization?
Jun. 3, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 3,034
"For the past 4 years we have been working mainly to export. For the last 3 or 4 years the main market was Russia. In the past year we have been working to expand our footprint in Europe and the United States," explained Andris Gailitis, CEO of DEAC, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Jun. 3, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 4,677