Green Cloud Computing: Benefits and Challenges

Cloud infrastructure can be out of sight and out of mind for most businesses that depend on it. But that doesn’t mean that cloud data centers don’t consume vast amounts of energy – so much so that, globally, data centers account for approximately 1% of total energy consumption.

That’s part of the reason why “green” cloud computing has become a thing. Keep reading for an overview of what green cloud computing means, who can benefit from it, and how to put it into practice.

What is green cloud computing?

Green cloud computing is a cloud computing strategy that aims to minimize the environmental impact of cloud-based infrastructure and applications.

Green cloud computing has two main goals. The first is to reduce the overall energy consumption of cloud data centers and the workloads that run there. The second is to source energy in a clean and sustainable way wherever possible, so that the energy consumed by clouds leaves a lower carbon footprint.

How does green cloud computing work?

There are a variety of ways to implement green cloud computing. Common strategies include:

  • Choose the right cloud services: Depending on the workloads you run, some cloud services may result in greater energy efficiency than others. For example, serverless computing can result in greater energy efficiency, especially for compute-intensive workloads, as it minimizes the time that host environments sit idle consuming resources without actually responding to user requests.
  • Planning a green cloud architecture: In green cloud computing, goals such as performance and availability must be balanced with energy goals. You can, for example, choose a cloud disaster recovery strategy which reduces the amount of resources you keep idle. This will likely result in longer recovery times, but it will lower your cloud power consumption rates.
  • Know when and when not to use the cloud: Although modern cloud data centers are much more energy efficient than most on-premises infrastructure, it may still make good environmental sense in some cases to keep workloads on-premises. For example, if you have already acquired many servers that would become e-waste when migrating to the cloud, continuing to use those servers may be the most sustainable thing to do.
  • Use of carbon offsets: If you can’t plan an inherently green cloud strategy, you can at least buy carbon offsets to bring your net carbon footprint closer to zero. (We’ll discuss the role of carbon offsets – which is a controversial topic – in green cloud computing a bit later.)

Is cloud infrastructure “green”?

Today, all major public cloud providers have made substantial commitments to environmental sustainability. So, by the way, many colocation companies sell data center space (and sometimes server infrastructure) that companies can use to build private or hybrid clouds.

This does not mean, however, that simply choosing to run workloads in a cloud or data center that promises to be “green” or “carbon neutral” equates to green cloud computing. It’s important to take a close look at how, exactly, your supplier is implementing their sustainability promise.

Most cloud computing and data center companies use a combination of two methods in pursuing green cloud computing initiatives:

  • Sustainable energy supply: Companies use renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to avoid emissions resulting from “dirty” energy.
  • Carbon offsets: They buy carbon offsets to offset the fossil fuels consumed by their data centers.

Historically, most cloud computing and colocation companies have relied more on carbon offsets than sustainable energy supply. The big three clouds – Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and AWS – have all pledged to source energy only from “clean” sources by the end of this decade, but in the meantime their ability to claim carbon neutrality greatly depends on their ability to purchase carbon offsets.


If you believe — as some people do — that carbon offsets are problematic in many ways, you may want to seek out a cloud or data center provider whose formula for achieving green infrastructure leans more towards clean energy sourcing than offset purchases .

It’s also worth noting that nuclear energy is among the energy sources that most cloud providers classify as “clean” or “renewable” – although they usually don’t talk about it as much as they highlight. before their investments in solar and wind farms. In this sense, your opinion of what counts as a “green” cloud may depend on the extent to which you consider nuclear power generation to be green.

Conclusion

Designing a green cloud computing strategy requires designing environmentally friendly cloud architectures and workloads, as well as choosing cloud or data center providers with genuine sustainability commitments. It’s no small feat, but it will become increasingly important for companies that want to future-proof their clouds, even as their workloads increase.

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