Will Cloud Computing Positively Have Switchboard Effect on Data Center Energy Consumption?

Cloud computing is the latest trend to rock the IT world, with large international internet service providers scrambling to secure their position in this developing sector. The consequent fervor caused by cloud computing has resulted in the emergence of numerous studies, papers, blogs, threads and discussions, which applaud the switchboard effect that cloud computing will have on the energy utilization of data centers.

Research such as that undertaken by Pike Research (2011) states that the implementation of cloud computing has the potential to reduce data center energy consumption by up to 31 percent. This energy saving potential is generally attributed to the higher utilization rates of cloud centers and the newer, more energy efficient components that are installed in these facilities.

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist however, do clouds actually conserve energy? Clouds are still just a series of data centers in various geographical locations which are comprised of the same components, and provide the same services to users as an individual data center would. It therefore makes sense that clouds suffer from the same issues as individual data centers, the key of which in this day and age, is energy consumption and cost.

It can consequently be argued that the cloud computing is not the ‘green IT’ solution that providers would like consumers to believe it is. Cloud computing, instead of reducing the number of data centers is actually resulting in the construction of new data centers in a lot regions, many of which are tier 4, and therefore reasonably energy hungry.

Clouds on the Switchboard

Clouds also generally require data to be transferred from the cloud to the users’ device, which requires energy. Over the scope of millions of devices this energy consumption can add up, and according to Fehrenbacher (2010) it can nullify any efficiency gains cloud computing may have afforded.

Balinga et al. (2010) has also proposed that cloud data storage is also not as energy efficient as many cloud providers make it out to be. Balinga et al. (2010) states that although cloud storage is more energy efficient than storage on hard disk drives, the constant file downloads and associated data transport, consumes more energy than hard drive storage. This results in negligible, if any, energy savings when compared to traditional individual data centers.

There is therefore the issue of companies reporting increased energy conservation and the consequent reduction of their carbon footprints via the utilization of cloud providers. Is it not possible that companies are just outsourcing their high energy utilization issues to their cloud provider, rather then actually changing their way of operating?

In conclusion it can be noted that considering cloud computing as the answer to the contemporary issue of high energy utilization within the IT industry is a little farfetched. In some instances clouds are more energy efficient than traditional data centers, however cloud providers still require data centers in order to operate, and are therefore inherently high energy users. In order for cloud provider to advertise themselves as ‘green’, their data centers must be built in a way that promotes energy efficiency from the switchboard to the circuit breakers as well as being environmental sustainability, which is currently not the norm.