Click here to close now.


Agile Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Dana Gardner, Mehdi Daoudi, Tim Hinds, Bill Szybillo

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Agile Computing

@CloudExpo: Article

Acid or Green Rain from Cloud Computing?

Can cloud computing really deliver the environmental benefits that the hype suggests?

The world's data centers collectively are said to be producing more carbon emissions than consumers within many countries (Italy, The Netherlands and Argentina are some of the more headline-grabbing examples that have been cited of late). "The whole industry must be more efficient" is an all too common battle cry, in reaction to that. But does that really wash - or is it just more greenwash?

As the need for computing technology grows, we are seeing more and more organizations considering building in house data centres, which will lead to a huge overall increase in carbon emissions. It's madness, really, when the data they are storing and processing could be residing on someone else's servers, under an outsourcing agreement. This is all about economies of scale. After all, a business that has only a single rack, or very few racks, in its data centre still has to power and cool the whole data centre. So it makes no sense at all.

As for the scare stories about massive upsurges in the amount of carbon being belched out by data centers, well, no sooner have these stories hit the mat than they are followed by articles saying: ‘Don't worry, the future is bright; Cloud Computing is riding in to save the day'. But is it? And how can it? A participant at a recent technology seminar that I attended, stood up and boldly stated that Cloud computing signaled the end of data center industry and the need for data centers, as "we would all now simply plug into the Cloud". When asked to elaborate, he gave the impression that he genuinely believed that the ‘cloud' was simply ‘out there', as if it was some form of vaporous computing magic and that it would result in the abolition of data centers - all data centers.

I use this as a real example of the confusion and hype that appears to have set in around all things ‘cloud'. While the delegate's point about ‘plugging into the Cloud' has factual basis, the assumption that data centres will no longer exist is quite obviously a work of fiction. Of course, they will exist - the Cloud has to be hosted somewhere. And the plain truth is that all of us have been accessing the ‘Cloud' in some shape or form for many years.

The simple truth is that the ‘Cloud' is a natural and, some would say, marketing-led progression of computing technologies. Just as the mobile phone is no longer the size of a house brick, so servers and computers have become faster, more efficient, powerful and we can do more with less. What we are now seeing is the industry attempting to ‘package' these improvements and create buzz to entice business to reconsider their computing options. And clearly the ‘green' angle is seen as both relevant and compelling.

If we compare Cloud computing with one of the last great ‘must-haves' - Broadband - it was only a combination of affordable pricing, coupled with compelling applications - streaming video and social networking - that led to the explosion in adoption during the past six years to the levels that were once predicted by the Telcos/ISPs back in 2002/3.

One of the key reasons for its lack of early success was that the industry failed to explain the benefits of broadband clearly. It was hung up on ‘contention ratios, ‘Nat' and ‘Non-Nat' configurations and ‘upload speeds', and other technical features that were only understood by an elite few. And I can see the same mistakes being made with the Cloud.

One very simple definition of the Cloud is that of a resilient, high availability ‘infrastructure as a service' solution for organizations, offering selected outsourcing at lower cost than in-house - or economies and efficiencies of scale, at a reduced cost. For many of today's businesses, the benefits of Cloud Computing, of a centralized computing infrastructure that can be easily accessed via the Internet, are just too compelling to ignore. Server virtualization, storage, ‘play and pay as you go' web hosting, integrated communications are a sample of the current services that are delivered as cloud offerings and all of them, if utilised properly, should deliver substantial operation and financial savings. And this is the benefit that we need to explain and market.

Until now, the expected primary source for Cloud-based revenues was large companies. And yet the current economic climate creates an opportunity for the SME to derive as much benefit as the blue chip. But how are they to be reached?

A relatively recent survey of 644 mid-ranged US companies highlighted that 25% of respondents defined Cloud Computing purely as a buzz word, 36% were unsure of the benefits, 12% had no intention of using Cloud services and 39% only predicted a maximum of 10% of their IT services being delivered via the cloud. This is not unexpected, but shows the challenge the industry faces in promoting its message.

We need to get the balance right between demonstrating real bottom-line cost savings to the business, while reducing carbon emissions through good practice. Cloud computing should not simply be positioned around looking to cut emissions; it needs to be advocating better utilisation and efficiencies for IT and thus the business. The core benefit is not about lower power consumption, but about a better automated business process that's able to run more effectively. Being green will be a natural by-product of that.

Server virtualization is already proving itself as the ‘low hanging fruit' in reducing overhead. Industry figures indicate that, for every server workload virtualized, hardware and operating costs are reduced by as much as 50% and energy costs by 80%, saving more than £2,500 per year. When you add this to the fact that IT services can be delivered on demand, and that server utilization can be improved by a ratio of 10:1 or better, the benefits are hugely attractive. In the past, businesses would have put up with this excess capacity, given the IT department's risk-aversion, but not so today, it seems.

A McKinsey & Co study found that within one media company, almost one-third of the servers in operation had utilisation rates of below 3% and nearly two-thirds of the servers had utilisation rates of below 10%. So it's not surprising that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has predicted that, if the current trends continued, energy consumption by data centers will almost double to more than 100 billion kWh per year by 2011. The McKinsey study concluded that the ‘"the greenest data centre is the one that you don't have to build" and this is where cloud computing offers its biggest advantages - economies of scale. A data center needs to power and cool, thereby consuming energy, whether it contains one rack or six hundred.

As with the anything that ‘appears too good to be true' there is a catch. And the catch, quite simply, with cloud hosting is that you lose direct control. When you are dependent on someone else for the management and care of your technology, you are effectively placing your business in the hands of a third party. The recent spate of well publicised data centre outages has really highlighted this fact and has led to pain for many businesses. But can outages be avoided? The simple and very truthful answer is ‘no'.

While cloud service and data centre providers can take every practical measure possible to prevent downtime, there is always a chance, no matter how slim, that an event might occur that is totally outside of their control. If cloud computing is to succeed and deliver the benefits that it so obviously promises, then the market must accept the fact that trust and understanding, as much as fiscal and ‘green' benefits, will be the real keys that unlock it's obvious potential. Cloud service providers must be totally honest about the underlying infrastructure that they operate - eg, the data centers, the power and network supplies, the fail-over options and perhaps, more importantly, outline what happens, should things go wrong.  Likewise, customers must understand about redundancy and, crucially, the costs associated with the provision of a fully redundant solution.

Why would you not consider a cloud model? To build and manage a secure, fully powered, high-availability environment, capable of withstanding disasters or interruptions, is a costly and resource-intensive undertaking. As new vulnerabilities and growing threats proliferate on a daily basis, application monitoring and patch management becomes a full time job. Wouldn't you rather utilise your highly skilled technical resource on projects that impact directly on your core business? Do you really want to hold stocks of server parts? Wouldn't your accounts department feel more comfortable with an agreed and predictable monthly cost for the IT services that you require? And wouldn't your shareholders and customers feel better about you knowing that you are actively seeking to reduce your carbon footprint by maximising the use of power reducing technologies in which you have not had to invest capital?

Clearly, the benefits of cloud computing can go well beyond any savings that can be made on the power bill from the data centre. Indeed, the more effective IT is in support of the core business processes and objectives, the more cloud computing provides a systemic value.

Thus, the danger of claiming that the ‘Cloud is green' is that you won't see the true holistic benefit of cloud computing as a means of reinventing your IT architecture into a much more flexible and efficient tool for your business. That effort requires some detailed rethinking and those that jump onto the cloud computing bandwagon, focusing on narrow benefits, such as simple power consumption savings, are missing the real opportunities that the ‘Cloud' has to offer.

More Stories By Phil Worms

Phil is the Chief Marketing Officer of one of the UK's largest managed hosting and cloud computing services companies - iomart Group plc. He is a 30 year IT industry veteran, having started his career with BT plc, joining the company as it emerged into a brave new commercial world following privatisation.

A full and varied career has seen Phil move through various senior product/project and marketing positions with companies as diverse as Centrica plc, One.Tel and VarTec Telecom, Phil has been described as “an old head who has been around the block more than once” who “continues to be a powerhouse of ideas in all areas in which he provides his considerable experience to” - which probably means he should have been pensioned long ago.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Most Recent Comments
eswaran 02/13/12 12:16:00 AM EST

Cloud Computing is like the dog storing the bone for a future date and forgetting where it is stored. So often we store something in the cloud and forget about it; our comments for example. While providers need to be open, users too should be circumspect enough to know technology behind the cloud.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Most of the IoT Gateway scenarios involve collecting data from machines/processing and pushing data upstream to cloud for further analytics. The gateway hardware varies from Raspberry Pi to Industrial PCs. The document states the process of allowing deploying polyglot data pipelining software with the clear notion of supporting immutability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Shashank Jain, a development architect for SAP Labs, discussed the objective, which is to automate the IoT deployment process from development to production scenarios using Docker containers.
Countless business models have spawned from the IaaS industry – resell Web hosting, blogs, public cloud, and on and on. With the overwhelming amount of tools available to us, it's sometimes easy to overlook that many of them are just new skins of resources we've had for a long time. In his general session at 17th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, an IBM Company, broke down what we have to work with, discussed the benefits and pitfalls and how we can best use them to design hosted applications.
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, demonstrated examples of com...
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" in this scenario: microservice A (releases daily) depends on a couple of additions to backend B (re...
Container technology is shaping the future of DevOps and it’s also changing the way organizations think about application development. With the rise of mobile applications in the enterprise, businesses are abandoning year-long development cycles and embracing technologies that enable rapid development and continuous deployment of apps. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist at, examined how Docker has evolved into a highly effective tool for application delivery by allowing increasingly popular Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) platforms to quickly crea...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound effect on the world, and what should we expect to see over the next couple of years.
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, wil...
PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNub’s Data Stream Network.