Cloud computing's ranking in terms of sustainable technologies has been a hot issue for businesses looking to go green to earn PR and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) points. How do we answer this question?
The problem with cloud computing is that each deployment is different and includes a different mix of technologies. The total carbon footprint is based on a complex set of factors that determine how much electricity is needed. Is cloud computing a sustainable technology? The answer is something many people don't like: "It depends."
Today, all supersized companies boast that their clouds are green and moving toward zero emissions. It's all true, and good for them; However, when it comes to how green a specific cloud deployment is for a specific enterprise, we can only say, "Yes, this part is green, but this part is not green." This is determined by deployment.
I've covered this before, so if you follow me, some of these statements are redundant. However, judging from media inquiries and the questions I'm getting from clients, this is becoming a hot topic.
I will insist on that. The public cloud is a greener alternative to more traditional computing methods. However, depending on how your company specifically uses cloud computing, the cloud may not be for you.
I'm sorry to be such a killjoy. However, sustainability is very much a deployment specific issue, even if media and cloud computing vendors do not portray it as such. In fact, new ideas are emerging around the issue.
- Efficiency of the overall cloud architecture
As I said before, if we can solve the same problem with 300 fewer technologies, then the architecture will drive cloud deployments to truly green. Interestingly, in many cases, a poorly designed cloud deployment running on a very green public cloud provider produces more carbon than a fully optimized architecture running inside a traditional data center.
This is not discussed as often as it should be. However, this is actually a major determinant of whether or not your cloud deployment is good for the planet. My point is this: we can do better if the solution is optimized, rather than deploying an under-optimized solution on what many consider to be a more environmentally friendly technology.
- Location of the cloud computing user
A cloud provider might have a data center in the United States connected to a wind or solar farm, and that's fine. However, your cloud services, applications, and data may not use the data center. The data center your company uses may be in a region, state, or country that uses coal-fired power plants. Is the supplier green? Yes. Does using this vendor make you green? It depends on how you deploy your cloud solution.
- Application development of power optimization
We've all heard of the DevOps continuous testing service, which determines whether your application meets security, performance, stability, and other criteria. How about a power standard using the same automated test method? If an application requires minimal power to perform computation and storage operations, what about its coding and deployment capabilities?
Most developers don't pay attention to this. Given that they must prioritize performance, safety, stability, etc., it may be too much to ask them to code and test power efficiency in support of sustainability. However, it may require very little effort to achieve a great power optimization.
Applications and data storage systems can be "power optimized" to cut their consumption in half and significantly reduce your cloud usage costs. Most developers don't pay attention to this. Given that they must prioritize performance, safety, stability, etc., it may be too much to ask them to code and test power efficiency in support of sustainability. However, it may require very little effort to achieve a great power optimization.
None of this will surprise anyone. We just like simple information that is true no matter what. Cloud computing is a complex, distributed system, and defining any perceived benefits is not straightforward, and there are many. Sustainability is a complex set of concepts to consider in order to answer these questions correctly. I'm sorry about that, but it has to be done.
David S. Lenthicum is an internationally recognized industry expert and thought leader. The views expressed are his own.