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November 4, 2009

Cloud computing's CO2 lining

Posted: 10:04 AM ET

On my scavenger hunt into cloud computing, I learned there are few if any ways to compare one cloud computing company to another. Say, for instance, you wanted to upload the contents of your laptop to "the cloud" of the Internet. It would be hard if not impossible to get a comparison about how well companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and IBM provide this service, which is sometimes called "cloud storage."

One emerging and important way to make these comparisons, though, is energy efficiency.

The computer farms that make up the cloud are energy-sucking machines. It costs more to cool the computers than to run them. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says 1.5 percent of all electricity consumption in the country in 2007 came from the data centers that house these cloud computers. And that electricity use is expected to double every five years as we store and process more info in the cloud. (View the EPA's full report to Congress on the subject).

But not all clouds are equal. And the EPA and an industry group called The Green Grid have made it part of their missions to give consumers ways to compare the emerging cloud power-houses.

In April, the EPA will unveil an “Energy Star” ratings program for data centers, according to Michael Zatz, manager of the EPA’s Energy Star program for commercial buildings. The program is voluntary, so not everyone will report their efficiencies, but a number of companies, including Microsoft, are already on board.

Here's an site with more information on this emerging program for green data centers. Scroll down half-way to find a list of some companies involved. Also check out Green Grid for a list of computing companies that are working with that group towards a more energy-efficient future for computing.

And let me know what you think. Is it a big deal that so little information is available about cloud computing? What would you like to know that's not being shared?

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Filed under: climate change • cloud computing • consumer tech • data centers • Energy

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Len   November 4th, 2009 1:21 pm ET

Ewe..ewe.ewe...and not just because of the whole green thing... just how secure is the information from the government..what do the Courts say? Another reason for more lawyers, yuck.

Dianne Tillman   November 4th, 2009 1:57 pm ET

This is a very interesting articles with links to very interesting reports. one request, please proof read your copy before you post the article next time.

R Posey   November 4th, 2009 2:21 pm ET

They could easily cut the CO2 foot print of the data centers to nearly zero by locating them in the right areas. There are plenty of regions of the USA where wind or solar power is available in abundance, its just in most cases these do not match the population distribution, so build your data center there, since it really doesn't matter where it is located.

For Example, build an underground (to avoid solar heating) center in the desert SW, and build a solar power plant on top of it. Power is available without any CO2 production, and you get to use the land twice.

Lots of windy places would have the same cost equation, and some places with lots of sun are actually pretty cool.

Jim   November 4th, 2009 4:42 pm ET

Water cooling would save a bundle. Just punp in cool water from a lake, and expel out warm water back to a stream. This is not without environmental impacts, but properly planed would work very well. The Pacific ocean runs a cool 50-60 degrees. Expel the hot water back to the ocean, and it will be lost in the huge thermal mass of the Pacific.

Les   November 4th, 2009 4:55 pm ET

To reply to your hunt on cloud computing here are the big questions to ask these centers.

1) Do they use site replication? This is the process where data is copied between more than one location so if one location is down say to a power outage your data is available at another location.

2) Do they use RAID configuration with their drives? In a normal PC you store your data on your hard drive. In a data server envirnment, data is written across more than one hard drive so that if the drive fails the data is still there and can be accessed. The failed drive can often be pulled and a new one inserted and the data is then recopied back to the new drive. This method isn't fool proof as the hard drive controller or system could fail anyway but it adds a level of availabaility in case of failure. Almost all data centers should be using a RAID configuration.

3) How big of a line connects the center to the rest of the world? And do they have backup connections ready in the event that the main line goes down? Bandwidth is the measurement of how much data you can pull or push along a standard network connection. Depending on demand you need to make sure your connection is large enough to accomodate such.

4) What types of physical security are in place for accessing the equipment? Computer security means nothing if someone can just walk right in and grab the server. This is one of the major cornerstones of IT security.

5) How many people have administrative access to my data? And do you encrypt the data? Most companies these days have taken the traditional administrators of old computer networks and divided up the access and responsibility of working with data. Different roles sometimes have different levels of access and require permission before technicians can work with your data.

All of these questions would be valid to what you wanted to know. However... Any company who cares about the security of their data would give you a approximation of what steps are taken as part of what makes or breaks it for these places are protecting the data that they store. Giving out security and technical information would not be in their best interests.

Samrat   November 4th, 2009 4:57 pm ET

Google has filed a patent which if commercialised will be a revolution in data centers. It is called floating data center . The data center would be floating in the ocean , the waves would generate the electricity which is required to power the data center and the ocean water will also work as a cooling agent . Just imagine how it will be when you see a data center folating on mid Atlantic.

O Kenku   November 4th, 2009 5:02 pm ET

This data centres could be moved to places that would be more suited to energy efficiency, but there's the issue of secrecy that comes with the business. The issue here is to find a balance and for the government to look into regulation which it sound like they have already started to do.

D Michael   November 4th, 2009 5:45 pm ET

Posey: with regard to a CO2 footprint, datacenter companies will not generally be producing their own power, they will be using the existing energy grid. Since it is a grid, its impossible to say whether any specific electron came from a coal plant, solar farm, hydro-electric or nuclear plant.

Next misconception, the cooling costs are not due to the outside environment, but the inefficiencies of computer processors being used. Your standard desktop computer will have about a 200W powersupply, this means it will use electricity (and put off comparable heat) to 3 x 60W incandesant light bulbs. As the main article mentions, a single blade has the computing capacity of many desktop machines and will have a similarly high multiple of the thermal output compared to your home machine. Therefore, the machines themselves are the source of the heat that needs this extraordinary cooling capacity. That said, cloud computing is still generally more energy efficient than millions of home computers.

The number of factors involved in creating a new datacenter is on the order of 50. Some the largest include: proximity to large bandwidth nodes, cost of electricity (for both running and cooling), property & business tax rates. The first is a prerequisit in that a datacenter must provide information quickly, the next two are large constant expenses, whereas labor is relatively cheap comparatively (datacenters require very few personel which don't necessarilly need to be onsite).

Len: I think you wanted "ew". "ewe" is a female sheep and the word is interesting in that it is one of the few descendants of the Indo-European proto language recognizable in English.

Den   November 5th, 2009 12:54 am ET


Pasted your comment:

This is a very interesting articles with links to very interesting reports. one request, please proof read your copy before you post the article next time.

See anything wrong here? Choice. Very, very choice.

Banaticus   November 5th, 2009 3:15 am ET

It does matter where you build your datacenter. For lowest latency, you need to be near one of the Internet2 fiber optic hubs. Building it out in the desert just wouldn't work. Plus, you have to get repair parts out there, you have staff that're going to want to do something on their time off... (unless you hire true techies who'll then just want to piggyback on the cloud connection, although then you'd have to throttle their connection somehow to avoid turning the datacenter into the world's largest/fastest bittorrent peer).

Franko   November 5th, 2009 8:18 pm ET

Cloud computing, generating CO2, amplifying surface H2O,
- trapping the heat, beyond the point of no return ?

Thermal runaway
Just a few extra CPU cycles, and the climate cycles will self destruct ?

Fear not, there are negative feedbacks
Your late night cloud computing will not result in the temperatures of Venus

jonhowell   November 6th, 2009 3:56 am ET

clouds are cool and this is a great article, but your discovery of gold and the founding of Sacramento are much cooler.

Keith   November 6th, 2009 6:04 am ET

Googles all reayd made a server farm where its nothing but solar power running it. and in 5 years, pays for itself alone. Job done!

Franko   November 6th, 2009 10:41 am ET

With more than a billion people starving - Limiting CO2 is a crime
CO2 increases moisture transport and plant growth
Due to the saturated greenhouse effect, the bulk greenhouse
properties of the atmosphere remain the same.(CO2 replaces H2O)

Joe   November 7th, 2009 3:37 am ET

Dianne Tillman:

I believe proofread is one word. Why does every grammar nazi make grammar mistakes by their second sentence?

Ian   November 8th, 2009 12:22 am ET

Jim, methinks that using water wouldn't be good at all for anyone, especially when its so vital for people. I think there would be an ecological and a social backlash from that plan.

Franko, CO2 increases moisture transport and plant growth, yes, but it also exacerbates a whole slew of problems. Wouldn't it suck to realize that cloud computing is drowning the maldives?

Franko   November 9th, 2009 2:43 pm ET

To - Ian
Cosmic rays are modulated by the Sun, drive the clouds, and the clouds, through albedo modifying, drive the climate. - Humans emit only 3.7% of the total CO2 - The effects of greenhouse gases are limited by the "saturated greenhouse effect" - ocean levels have varied in this interglacial - not attributable to CO2

For the Maldives drowning, or the little Green Men from Mars
Proof of the CO2 link assertion remains with the story teller

Mark C   November 11th, 2009 1:26 am ET

*** This data centres could be moved to places that would be more suited to energy efficiency ***

It's hilarious to think that people here actually think that the thirty seconds they spent thinking about the problem is actually helpful to companies like Google and Microsoft, who have had an army of engineers working on these multi-billion-dollar centers for years. Yeah, energy efficiency, I'M SURE they never thought of that *rolls eyes*.

Mark C   November 11th, 2009 1:27 am ET

*** "Cosmic rays are modulated by the Sun: ***

Yep, lets all learn a science lesson from a guy who clearly hasn't the first clue what the word "modulate" means.

Mark C   November 11th, 2009 1:44 am ET

*** "With more than a billion people starving – Limiting CO2 is a crime" ***

Actually, nobody in the world is starving because of lack of food production. If people are starving, it's a distribution problem caused by politics. That could change if global warming starts changing highly productive areas - like California - into deserts. The Sierra Nevada icepacks are already getting scary low, and the annual melting of that ice is responsible for irrigating almost half the country's food supply. Frankly from your comments it's quite clear you don't have a clue, and get all your information from Exxon-Mobile-funded pseudoscience propaganda.,

Rob   November 11th, 2009 8:52 am ET

An article without information yet so many words, the only real thing it says is here are a few reports and not all companies will provide an insight into their energy efficiency rating.

In all reality though what does an energy efficiency rating say... pretty much nothing, as the real interesting figures would include amount of energy required to store, backup and retrieve 1MB or 1GB of data. Because in the end I could easily have a data center with a very efficient cooling and power supply but the computers I am running require 1000W per 1GB storage. Where my competitor has a offering with only half the efficiency but requiring only 100W per 1TB of storage...
The one that is better for the environment is by far not always the most energy efficient option unless you are measuring energy efficiency with a relevant value. The EPA only looks at the amount of power sucked from the grid and the actually used energy by the cloud. Which is a useless statistic when looking at energy efficiency in relation to storage.

Fredilly   November 11th, 2009 11:51 am ET

Cloud saving, cloud spending, cloud energy, cloud rating........arent we all on a cloudy ride?

Franko   November 11th, 2009 5:17 pm ET

Mark C; *** "Cosmic rays are modulated by the Sun: ***

Get a handle on what drives the climate - search and watch
Prof. Tim Patterson about climate change
David Archibald – Global Warming & Sunspots explained
The Cloud Mystery 2/6
Miskolczi`s New Greenhouse Law

Pete   November 12th, 2009 3:53 pm ET

Uh, mainframe anyone?

Guido P.   November 15th, 2009 10:24 am ET

I disagree. Data Centers that provide cloud computing services are actually keeping an eye on their own profitability and they do take decisions oriented to lower their costs and maintain state-of-the-art equipment. They will opt for equipment that consumes less energy, while keeping efficient computing power.

Secondly, the concept of computing-as-a-service is keeping all of their computers efficiently used as virtual servers. A computer at a conventional company's data center would be used to a certain percentage of its power, and if that company decided to move that computing service to a Cloud Computing offer, they would be replaced within an existing server, leveraging the remaining computing power. The equation is that you would get more customers under the same computing power. "You would drink the whole giant-meal instead of wasting it".

Concluding, cloud computing actually "replaces" others inefficiently managed data centers, therefore it does not necessarily increase power consumption.

adm   November 16th, 2009 11:37 am ET

Here's an idea. The biggest draw on energy comes from cooling, why not(gasp) the server farms in naturally cold environments and use nature?

Franko   November 16th, 2009 4:10 pm ET

CO2 is good - The debate is over.
Why pretend otherwise ?

Tom Reid   November 17th, 2009 3:27 pm ET

A while ago an article appeared in a Tech News report of a complex being built in area about 20-25 miles south of Chicago for Microsoft severs.

Felt this was of interest as MS and Yahoo were navigating a merger/takeover and had the ear to the ground. Easy to see now that "Cloud Computing" would be a big part of this venture.

MS has been falling behind as they have not had the reputation with good security. Easier to understand if you become aware of "cookies.dat" in most OS and try to delete the information. Can't do it as it is a system file that contains a lot of information that other computers on the internet and network require. Looking at it is "Machine Language" and has some revealing information that you wouldn't want published..Third party Software will clean and rewrite to that file.

This is not the point about "Cloud Computing" Security is.
Assume that MS goes the way of GM and is required to sell assets to remain in business. (To big to fail? Not any more) What is the prospect of protecting that information when being bought by a foreign company or Government. As many of us know that the information in our computers becomes more valuable than the computer itself.

The thought that MS would become as GM we see today is quite real as they are not as willing to change. GM indicated that 35 years as a model of success was not about to change. .

Cloud Computing is here and should be embraced with a better security policy in mind.

Mary   November 19th, 2009 8:59 am ET

Ever hear of the old addage "never put all of your eggs in one basket"?
Cloud computing is doing just that. It was never a good idea.
I will never use cloud computing. The thought of dumping my computer on a remote site makes me cringe. No thanks.

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