Greenpeace Casts Shadow On Cloud Computing

Yes, according to a new report from Greenpeace that examines the cloud's impact on the environment and what type of fuel is being used to power some of the world's largest cloud providers' and companies' data centers. The Greenpeace report was launched this week in anticipation of the release of the Apple iPad.

"The cloud is growing at a time when climate change and reducing emissions from energy use is of paramount concern," Greenpeace wrote in the 12-page report called Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change . "With the growth of the cloud, however, comes an increasing demand for energy. For all of this content to be delivered to us in real time, virtual mountains of video, pictures and other data must be stored somewhere and be available for almost instantaneous access. That 'somewhere' is data centers - massive storage facilities that consume incredible amounts of energy."

Greenpeace said the cloud is creating a pollution cloud of its own as major Internet companies like Facebook and Apple leverage data centers powered by coal. The report indicates that Facebook will build a data center in Oregon that runs mainly on coal while Apple is building a data center in North Carolina that also uses coal as its main power source.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace highlighted Yahoo! and Google for making "better decisions for siting some of their data centers." Yahoo! Built a data center in an area powered by hydroelectric energy, while Google and Google Energy were recently approved as regulated wholesale buyers and sellers of electricity, which gives it more flexibility to power data centers, Greenpeace noted.

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"If we hope to phase out dirty sources of energy to address climate change, then - given the massive amounts of electricity needed in order to run computers, provide backup power and coordinate related cooling equipment that even energy-efficient data centers consume - the last thing we need is for more cloud infrastructure to be built in places where it increases demand for dirty coal-fired power," Greenpeace wrote.

Greenpeace has flagged 2010 as the "year of the cloud" on the back of the launch of the Internet-friendly Apple iPad tablet, which will hit stores Saturday, the launch of Microsoft Windows Azure and a host of other cloud services from the likes of Google and Amazon. As the cloud continued to grow, Greenpeace said the size and scale of data centers being built will increase.

According to the Smart 2020 analysis forecast, which projects the growth in ICT electricity consumption and GHG emissions by 2020, the global carbon footprint of the main components of cloud-based computing -- data centers and the telecommunications network -- will see their emissions grow, on average, 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively, each year between 2002 and 2020.

Meanwhile, the number of data center servers is expected to grow on average 9 percent each year during that period. Essentially, the amount of electricity consumed by the cloud and cloud computing companies will triple by 2020 if not reined in, meaning the key components of the cloud will gobble up 1,963 billion kilowatt hours of electricity 10 years from now.

To cut back on the power consumed and carbon emitted by the cloud and cloud companies, Greenpeace offered up a few key questions cloud providers should ask before building a new data center:

"Ultimately, if cloud providers want to provide a truly green and renewable cloud, they must use their power and influence to not only drive investments near renewable energy sources, but also become involved in setting the policies that will drive rapid deployment of renewable electricity generation economy-wide, and place greater R&D into storage devices that will deliver electricity from renewable sources 24/7," Greenpeace said.