The energy consumption of cloud computing

While I’ve written on the potential (and significant limitations) of cloud computing in relation ICT4Peace previously it’s never quite easy to get one’s head around the power consumption of behemoth data centres that actually power the “cloud“.

It’s not just Second Life that consumes more power than an average Brazillian. A single data centre of Google alone (leaving aside those of Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon and other internet giants) can by 2011 can consume about as much as 82,000 homes in the US according to a recent article by Harpers Magazine. The numbers are mind boggling:

“Based on the projected industry standard of 500 watts per square foot in 2011, the Dallas plant can be expected to demand about 103 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 82,000 homes, or a city the size of Tacoma, Washington.”

Though there’s some (semantic) confusion with regard to the actual consumption of power, it’s indubitable that these data centres will collectively consume an incredible amount of energy to keep the cloud as well as the Internet and web growth alive. Harper’s Magazine makes it clear that Google is not above manipulation to get deals on cheap energy – energy that is generated in some countries by fossil fuels. 

And here I thought that cloud computing was environmentally friendly. 

3 comments on “The energy consumption of cloud computing

  1. Eduardo Jezierski
    April 8, 2008 at 11:10 pm #

    Second law of thermodynamics says any computing is not environmentally friendly…but I felt identified since we run so much of our own IT infrastructure ‘in the clouds’.

    “Services” allow you to choose where things run – and by glomming up in datacenters you have economies of scale re: transport, provisioning, powering, cooling and recycling equipment. Datacenter owners are also much more electricity consumption conscious than average PC users, and have incentives to turn off unused gear that corporate, home or internet cafe users don’t. Of course it also means they can do damage in larger bites…
    Glad to see folks think about this, but this comment in of itself isn’t green, so I’ll stop!

  2. Sanjana Hattotuwa
    April 9, 2008 at 8:57 am #

    Hi Ed,

    “Datacenter owners are also much more electricity consumption conscious than average PC users, and have incentives to turn off unused gear that corporate, home or internet cafe users don’t. ”

    Interesting – would you have any examples of that? What are the data centre systems that could be shut off in this manner with an appreciable impact on reducing energy consumption? I would imagine that server and server cooling infrastructure are draw the most energy. Can these be shut down?

    “Services” allow you to choose where things run – and by glomming up in datacenters you have economies of scale re: transport, provisioning, powering, cooling and recycling equipment.”

    Fair enough. But let’s not forget that cloud computing will, by definition, increase the number of devices used to access the web and Internet. The information may be stored on the cloud, but access will always be local – so essentially you are talking about much more plastic hitting the environment (mobile devices / phones / laptops / palmtops / PDAs etc). I guess what I’d like projections on (if at all possible) is on the aggregation of information in datacentres versus the growth of these devices – will the former off-set the negative environmental impact of the former? Will they together have far more of a negative environmental footprint than positive? Will new manufacturing techniques and materials for the former help reduce their environmental footprint? And what about the majority of the world’s population that for the next few years, who will not have access to cloud computing infrastructure or the purchasing power to buy environmentally friendly computing equipment? A new environmental divide in the making?🙂

    Sanjana

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  1. Would you happen to know anything about this? « Ephemeral Ruminations - April 8, 2008

    […] where we were wondering about the storage of information and the limits involved. Then there was this post and another one that provided more grist for the mill and set a tributary of the original […]

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