Green IT: On Greenpeace’s article about cloud computing

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Greenpeace used Apple’s upcoming iPad launch to release an article about the increasing energy consumption of cloud computing. This article has been getting some buzz by mostly-skeptical tech bloggers (I heard about it via insideHPC blog and Enterprise IT Planet blog).

I agree that Greenpeace’s publicity stunt of using the iPad as a foil for their argument was a bit cheap. Nevertheless, it turned people’s heads.

Energy consumption from telecommunications and data centers is growing at a tremendous rate: if this industry was a country, it would rank fifth in world energy consumption in 2007, according to the article. The article generally overlooks improvements that are being made in processor, motherboard, chassis and power supply technology that are making small inroads into reducing energy consumption on a server-by-server basis.

Instead, Greenpeace targets the largest tech corporations – Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple – and where they choose to build their large data centers. Some data centers are linked up to coal-drive power grids (which have a large carb0n footprint) while more environmentally-conscious (or PR-conscious) companies choose to build their data centers near grids with renewable energy sources.

ITC and cloud computing are here to stay. There is no use, as other writers have pointed out in response to the Greenpeace article, in targeting the iPad or even cloud computing technology in general. These products are moving in the direction of energy efficiency. The problem lies with the power grids: renewable energy is not profitable for most companies compared to cheaper coal-reliant power grids.

If the costs were even, using the environmentally-friendly power grid would be a no-brainer. The problem Greenpeace should be focusing on is the fundamental one for environmental activists: not consumer or cloud technology, but where we get the energy to power them.

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