Cloud Computing More Energy Efficient Than Initially Thought

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Environmentalists were concerned that the move to cloud computing and the prerequisite enormous data centers would prove to be an energy hog, but data centers have become incredibly efficient in the past decade.

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Ironically, just yesterday I saw the opposite view from the BBC :

Both things can be true: data centers consume a lot of power and they’re also a lot more efficient now. The 6% increase was much less than expected, which is good, but it’s still an increase.

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An important thing to remember is that the businesses using all this cloud computing need the computing power. If they don’t lease it from a cloud provider, then they will need to provision their own private data centers.

It’s not fair to simply show cloud power consumption in isolation (even comparing it against past consumption), but you need to compare it against estimated power consumption of the private data centers that the cloud services replace.

I suspect (based on no more than gut feelings) that a cloud provider will, in general, be more efficient than a private data center for several reasons, including:

  • Load balancing. There is less unused resources (CPU cycles, bandwidth, etc.) because the equipment is shared by multiple customers and loads are distributed throughout the data center.
  • More motivation for efficiency. The ginormous data centers used by cloud providers are orders of magnitude larger than private data centers. So there is far more cost savings from even small improvements in efficiency
  • Billing. If a customer is paying based on usage (CPU cycles, transactions, etc.), he is going to be motivated to optimize this usage. In a private data center, equipment and space is paid-for whether or not it is used, so there is less motivation to optimize usage as long as there is spare capability available.
  • Similarly, the cloud provider has a financial incentive to maximize efficiency because that means lower costs for the same amount of service (and therefore income).
  • Focus. Although big companies have IT departments full of people skilled at running data centers, smaller companies generally do not. They focus on their products and less on their IT infrastructure. Therefore, they may not be able to take advantage of opportunities to maximize efficiency and minimize costs. For a cloud provider, however, this is their entire business, so that is what they will focus on.
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