Is the cloud friendly and green, or a pollutant smog?
Cloud computing is proclaimed as being the new green technology – and its take up has been huge. Specialists in cost saving and environmental management systems who offer ISO 14001 training investigate whether cloud computing is really green at all. Guest blog by Ruth Barton, courtesy of the Energy Saving Trust.
Advances in technology and connection speeds have made cloud computing possible and as its accessibility increases so does its popularity. Internet traffic is expected to quadruple in just two years, by 2015 the network will have almost 3.5 billion users online with 15 billion devices connecting to it.
A UN agency have projected that mobile phones will outnumber people by the end of 2014 and another business estimates that in just four years mobile traffic will increase by 1300%. Thanks to mobile devices and the take up of the cloud, the way we use the internet is definitely evolving. The cloud offers a convenience that wasn’t available before. Users are able to access work documents from anywhere in the world provided they have an internet connection. The Average Joe no longer has to carefully organise his media before he leaves the house, it can all be found in and rented from cyberspace thanks to providers such as Spotify, Netflix, Amazon and iTunes.
So, the cloud is convenient, but is it green?
Traditionally businesses owned server rooms that were responsible for the backup of and network for all the computers in a firm. Staff had to be employed to maintain the servers and equipment purchased to keep the servers cool – preventing servers from overheating is imperative to avoid system crashes and service failure. Even if all of the servers are not in use, cool temperatures need to be maintained, air conditioning requires a lot of electricity, which is not particularly carbon friendly and also results in high energy bills.
Cloud computing can outsource this – the server room, the air conditioning and even the employees are no longer required. The business has the option to pay for the server space that it uses, no more, no less, meaning that they are no longer paying for unused space. Cloud servers are often in purpose built data centres, which are often in cooler climates and are optimised to make the use of fresh air – decreasing the need for so much cooling.
Cloud services also help to reduce the need for hard copies, businesses need no longer print off documents and consumers have a choice in whether to buy a CD/DVD or merely rent/download it. This helps to drive down the demand for packaging and manufacture of these products, reducing paper and plastic production.
However, thanks to wireless cloud technology there has been a reported increase in energy consumption patterns – which is only expected to rise. In fact, between 2012 and 2015 the growth has been forecasted to be as much as 460% – which is enough energy to power nearly 5 million new vehicles on the road.
Cloud server farms consume a lot of power and despite being purpose built and using green energy, there is always room for improvement. Scientists are looking to make the electronics in the servers greener by addressing the problem of ‘dark silicon’ in the transistors. Dark silicon is space on a chip that cannot be occupied by transistors in efforts to prevent overheating. This space on the chip is currently going to waste, but developers hope to optimise this by filling the empty region with low power circuits that are built for specific purposes, for example network interfacing or digital signal processing. These specialised circuits can use up to 0.001% of the energy of a standard computer processor – so as the science improves so will the capacity and competence of the specialised circuits.
It can therefore be concluded that cloud computing is a step in the right direction and advances in technology will help to improve and refine the power used by the cloud. Despite this, it’s crucial not to forget that regardless of how eco-friendly cloud data servers become they still are only responsible for less than 10% of the energy that wireless cloud energy consumes. The majority of energy use is drained by the wireless networks that provide access to the cloud – it is this that should be examined in taking steps to make the cloud become more green.
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