|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)
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential M2M Brand by Onalytica in the ‘Machine to Machine: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed the online debate on M2M by looking at over 85,000 tweets to provide the most influential individuals and brands that drive the discussion. According to Onalytica the "analysis showed a very engaged community with a lot of interactive tweets. The M2M discussion seems to be more fragmented and driven by some of the major brands present in the M2M space. This really allows some room for influential individuals to create more high value inter...
May. 7, 2015 12:15 AM EDT Reads: 5,900
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 industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
May. 6, 2015 06:30 PM EDT Reads: 981
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this case) takes into account the number and quality of contextual references that a user receives.
May. 6, 2015 06:15 PM EDT Reads: 2,755
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 are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
May. 6, 2015 04:45 PM EDT Reads: 866
Enterprise IoT is an exciting and chaotic space with a lot of potential to transform how the enterprise resources are managed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Hari Srinivasan, Sr Product Manager at Cisco, will describe the challenges in enabling mass adoption of IoT, and share perspectives and insights on architectures/standards/protocols that are necessary to build a healthy ecosystem and lay the foundation to for a wide variety of exciting IoT use cases in the years to come.
May. 6, 2015 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,308
Avnet, Inc. has announced that it ranked No. 4 on the InformationWeek Elite 100 – a list of the top business technology innovators in the U.S. Avnet was recognized for the development of an innovative cloud-based training system that serves as the foundation for Avnet Academy – the company’s education and training organization focused on technical training around top IT vendor technologies. The development of this system allowed Avnet to quickly expand its IT-related training capabilities around the world, while creating a new service that Avnet and its IT solution providers can offer to their...
May. 6, 2015 02:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,084
SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud, a provider of enterprise resource planning software, will exhibit at 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. B2cloud develops the software you need. They have the ideal tools to help you work with your clients. B2Cloud’s main solutions include AGIS – ERP, CLOHC, AGIS – Invoice, and IZUM
May. 6, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 4,540
It's time to put the "Thing" back in IoT. Whether it’s drones, robots, self-driving cars, ... There are multiple incredible examples of the power of IoT nowadays that are shadowed by announcements of yet another twist on statistics, databases, .... Sorry, I meant, Big Data(TM), tiered storage(TM), complex systems(TM), smart nations(TM), .... In his session at WebRTC Summit, Dr Alex Gouaillard, CTO and Co-Founder of Temasys, will discuss the concrete, cool, examples of IoT already happening today, and how mixing all those different sources of visual and audio input can make your life happier ...
May. 6, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 776
The WebRTC Summit 2015 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
May. 6, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 3,263
There is no doubt that Big Data is here and getting bigger every day. Building a Big Data infrastructure today is no easy task. There are an enormous number of choices for database engines and technologies. To make things even more challenging, requirements are getting more sophisticated, and the standard paradigm of supporting historical analytics queries is often just one facet of what is needed. As Big Data growth continues, organizations are demanding real-time access to data, allowing immediate and actionable interpretation of events as they happen. Another aspect concerns how to deliver ...
May. 6, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 5,906
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at 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., and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides private all-in-one social intranets allowing workers to securely collaborate from anywhere in the world and from any device. Social, mobile, and easy to use. MangoApps has been named a "Market Leader" by Ovum Research and a "Cool Vendor" by Gartner...
May. 6, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 4,484
The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal 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. Follow new article posts on Twitter at @MicroservicesE
May. 6, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 3,009
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
May. 6, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 4,035
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
May. 6, 2015 10:45 AM EDT Reads: 4,506
In his session at WebRTC Summit, Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, will look at creating interactive communications via the web by adding messaging, file transfer, and group communication (group chat and audio/video conferencing) into the web experience. He will also discuss potential applications of this technology in areas including B2B, B2C, P2P, and gaming. Peter Dunkley is Technical Director at Acision. He graduated from The University of Edinburgh in 2000 with a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science. After graduation Peter worked on a PSTN switch developing signalling stacks for SS...
May. 6, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 744
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
May. 6, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 5,511
What if, during a snow emergency, an on-the-ground sensor could automatically trigger a relevant emergency notification related to snowfall and road impact. And then, after it’s triggered, that notification is delivered intelligently to individuals based on an extensive set of rules designed to alert the most available and capable responders. This “what if” question about “smart highways” is short-sighted. We are already there, and we are only getting started. While mainstream attention is paid to machine-to-machine communications, new technologies are being developed to make these communica...
May. 6, 2015 10:26 AM EDT Reads: 627
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
May. 6, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 5,677
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit 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. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
May. 6, 2015 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 3,520
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
May. 6, 2015 09:45 AM EDT Reads: 6,065