Welcome!

Java Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, ITinvolve Blog, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Cloud Expo, Web 2.0

Cloud Expo: Article

Acid or Green Rain from Cloud Computing?

Can cloud computing really deliver the environmental benefits that the hype suggests?

The world's data centers collectively are said to be producing more carbon emissions than consumers within many countries (Italy, The Netherlands and Argentina are some of the more headline-grabbing examples that have been cited of late). "The whole industry must be more efficient" is an all too common battle cry, in reaction to that. But does that really wash - or is it just more greenwash?

As the need for computing technology grows, we are seeing more and more organizations considering building in house data centres, which will lead to a huge overall increase in carbon emissions. It's madness, really, when the data they are storing and processing could be residing on someone else's servers, under an outsourcing agreement. This is all about economies of scale. After all, a business that has only a single rack, or very few racks, in its data centre still has to power and cool the whole data centre. So it makes no sense at all.

As for the scare stories about massive upsurges in the amount of carbon being belched out by data centers, well, no sooner have these stories hit the mat than they are followed by articles saying: ‘Don't worry, the future is bright; Cloud Computing is riding in to save the day'. But is it? And how can it? A participant at a recent technology seminar that I attended, stood up and boldly stated that Cloud computing signaled the end of data center industry and the need for data centers, as "we would all now simply plug into the Cloud". When asked to elaborate, he gave the impression that he genuinely believed that the ‘cloud' was simply ‘out there', as if it was some form of vaporous computing magic and that it would result in the abolition of data centers - all data centers.

I use this as a real example of the confusion and hype that appears to have set in around all things ‘cloud'. While the delegate's point about ‘plugging into the Cloud' has factual basis, the assumption that data centres will no longer exist is quite obviously a work of fiction. Of course, they will exist - the Cloud has to be hosted somewhere. And the plain truth is that all of us have been accessing the ‘Cloud' in some shape or form for many years.

The simple truth is that the ‘Cloud' is a natural and, some would say, marketing-led progression of computing technologies. Just as the mobile phone is no longer the size of a house brick, so servers and computers have become faster, more efficient, powerful and we can do more with less. What we are now seeing is the industry attempting to ‘package' these improvements and create buzz to entice business to reconsider their computing options. And clearly the ‘green' angle is seen as both relevant and compelling.

If we compare Cloud computing with one of the last great ‘must-haves' - Broadband - it was only a combination of affordable pricing, coupled with compelling applications - streaming video and social networking - that led to the explosion in adoption during the past six years to the levels that were once predicted by the Telcos/ISPs back in 2002/3.

One of the key reasons for its lack of early success was that the industry failed to explain the benefits of broadband clearly. It was hung up on ‘contention ratios, ‘Nat' and ‘Non-Nat' configurations and ‘upload speeds', and other technical features that were only understood by an elite few. And I can see the same mistakes being made with the Cloud.

One very simple definition of the Cloud is that of a resilient, high availability ‘infrastructure as a service' solution for organizations, offering selected outsourcing at lower cost than in-house - or economies and efficiencies of scale, at a reduced cost. For many of today's businesses, the benefits of Cloud Computing, of a centralized computing infrastructure that can be easily accessed via the Internet, are just too compelling to ignore. Server virtualization, storage, ‘play and pay as you go' web hosting, integrated communications are a sample of the current services that are delivered as cloud offerings and all of them, if utilised properly, should deliver substantial operation and financial savings. And this is the benefit that we need to explain and market.

Until now, the expected primary source for Cloud-based revenues was large companies. And yet the current economic climate creates an opportunity for the SME to derive as much benefit as the blue chip. But how are they to be reached?

A relatively recent survey of 644 mid-ranged US companies highlighted that 25% of respondents defined Cloud Computing purely as a buzz word, 36% were unsure of the benefits, 12% had no intention of using Cloud services and 39% only predicted a maximum of 10% of their IT services being delivered via the cloud. This is not unexpected, but shows the challenge the industry faces in promoting its message.

We need to get the balance right between demonstrating real bottom-line cost savings to the business, while reducing carbon emissions through good practice. Cloud computing should not simply be positioned around looking to cut emissions; it needs to be advocating better utilisation and efficiencies for IT and thus the business. The core benefit is not about lower power consumption, but about a better automated business process that's able to run more effectively. Being green will be a natural by-product of that.

Server virtualization is already proving itself as the ‘low hanging fruit' in reducing overhead. Industry figures indicate that, for every server workload virtualized, hardware and operating costs are reduced by as much as 50% and energy costs by 80%, saving more than £2,500 per year. When you add this to the fact that IT services can be delivered on demand, and that server utilization can be improved by a ratio of 10:1 or better, the benefits are hugely attractive. In the past, businesses would have put up with this excess capacity, given the IT department's risk-aversion, but not so today, it seems.

A McKinsey & Co study found that within one media company, almost one-third of the servers in operation had utilisation rates of below 3% and nearly two-thirds of the servers had utilisation rates of below 10%. So it's not surprising that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has predicted that, if the current trends continued, energy consumption by data centers will almost double to more than 100 billion kWh per year by 2011. The McKinsey study concluded that the ‘"the greenest data centre is the one that you don't have to build" and this is where cloud computing offers its biggest advantages - economies of scale. A data center needs to power and cool, thereby consuming energy, whether it contains one rack or six hundred.

As with the anything that ‘appears too good to be true' there is a catch. And the catch, quite simply, with cloud hosting is that you lose direct control. When you are dependent on someone else for the management and care of your technology, you are effectively placing your business in the hands of a third party. The recent spate of well publicised data centre outages has really highlighted this fact and has led to pain for many businesses. But can outages be avoided? The simple and very truthful answer is ‘no'.

While cloud service and data centre providers can take every practical measure possible to prevent downtime, there is always a chance, no matter how slim, that an event might occur that is totally outside of their control. If cloud computing is to succeed and deliver the benefits that it so obviously promises, then the market must accept the fact that trust and understanding, as much as fiscal and ‘green' benefits, will be the real keys that unlock it's obvious potential. Cloud service providers must be totally honest about the underlying infrastructure that they operate - eg, the data centers, the power and network supplies, the fail-over options and perhaps, more importantly, outline what happens, should things go wrong.  Likewise, customers must understand about redundancy and, crucially, the costs associated with the provision of a fully redundant solution.

Why would you not consider a cloud model? To build and manage a secure, fully powered, high-availability environment, capable of withstanding disasters or interruptions, is a costly and resource-intensive undertaking. As new vulnerabilities and growing threats proliferate on a daily basis, application monitoring and patch management becomes a full time job. Wouldn't you rather utilise your highly skilled technical resource on projects that impact directly on your core business? Do you really want to hold stocks of server parts? Wouldn't your accounts department feel more comfortable with an agreed and predictable monthly cost for the IT services that you require? And wouldn't your shareholders and customers feel better about you knowing that you are actively seeking to reduce your carbon footprint by maximising the use of power reducing technologies in which you have not had to invest capital?

Clearly, the benefits of cloud computing can go well beyond any savings that can be made on the power bill from the data centre. Indeed, the more effective IT is in support of the core business processes and objectives, the more cloud computing provides a systemic value.

Thus, the danger of claiming that the ‘Cloud is green' is that you won't see the true holistic benefit of cloud computing as a means of reinventing your IT architecture into a much more flexible and efficient tool for your business. That effort requires some detailed rethinking and those that jump onto the cloud computing bandwagon, focusing on narrow benefits, such as simple power consumption savings, are missing the real opportunities that the ‘Cloud' has to offer.

More Stories By Phil Worms

Phil is the Chief Marketing Officer of one of the UK's largest managed hosting and cloud computing services companies - iomart Group plc. He is a 30 year IT industry veteran, having started his career with BT plc, joining the company as it emerged into a brave new commercial world following privatisation.

A full and varied career has seen Phil move through various senior product/project and marketing positions with companies as diverse as Centrica plc, One.Tel and VarTec Telecom, Phil has been described as “an old head who has been around the block more than once” who “continues to be a powerhouse of ideas in all areas in which he provides his considerable experience to” - which probably means he should have been pensioned long ago.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
eswaran 02/13/12 12:16:00 AM EST

Cloud Computing is like the dog storing the bone for a future date and forgetting where it is stored. So often we store something in the cloud and forget about it; our comments for example. While providers need to be open, users too should be circumspect enough to know technology behind the cloud.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
SYS-CON Media announced that Splunk, a provider of the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence, has launched an ad campaign on Big Data Journal. Splunk software and cloud services enable organizations to search, monitor, analyze and visualize machine-generated big data coming from websites, applications, servers, networks, sensors and mobile devices. The ads focus on delivering ROI - how improved uptime delivered $6M in annual ROI, improving customer operations by mining large volumes of unstructured data, and how data tracking delivers uptime when it matters most.
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.
There is no doubt that Big Data is here and getting bigger every day. Building a Big Data infrastructure today is no easy task. There are an enormous number of choices for database engines and technologies. To make things even more challenging, requirements are getting more sophisticated, and the standard paradigm of supporting historical analytics queries is often just one facet of what is needed. As Big Data growth continues, organizations are demanding real-time access to data, allowing immediate and actionable interpretation of events as they happen. Another aspect concerns how to deliver ...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold. Mike Kavis is Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Pa...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly in the process of breaking from its heretofore relatively obscure enterprise applications (such as plant floor control and supply chain management) and going mainstream into the consumer space. More and more creative folks are interconnecting everyday products such as household items, mobile devices, appliances and cars, and unleashing new and imaginative scenarios. We are seeing a lot of excitement around applications in home automation, personal fitness, and in-car entertainment and this excitement will bleed into other areas. On the commercial side, m...
Dale Kim is the Director of Industry Solutions at MapR. His background includes a variety of technical and management roles at information technology companies. While his experience includes work with relational databases, much of his career pertains to non-relational data in the areas of search, content management, and NoSQL, and includes senior roles in technical marketing, sales engineering, and support engineering. Dale holds an MBA from Santa Clara University, and a BA in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Performance is the intersection of power, agility, control, and choice. If you value performance, and more specifically consistent performance, you need to look beyond simple virtualized compute. Many factors need to be considered to create a truly performant environment. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, discussed how to take advantage of a multitude of compute options and platform features to make cloud the cornerstone of your online presence.
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
Since 2008 and for the first time in history, more than half of humans live in urban areas, urging cities to become “smart.” Today, cities can leverage the wide availability of smartphones combined with new technologies such as Beacons or NFC to connect their urban furniture and environment to create citizen-first services that improve transportation, way-finding and information delivery. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Laetitia Gazel-Anthoine, CEO of Connecthings, will focus on successful use cases.
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
“With easy-to-use SDKs for Atmel’s platforms, IoT developers can now reap the benefits of realtime communication, and bypass the security pitfalls and configuration complexities that put IoT deployments at risk,” said Todd Greene, founder & CEO of PubNub. PubNub will team with Atmel at CES 2015 to launch full SDK support for Atmel’s MCU, MPU, and Wireless SoC platforms. Atmel developers now have access to PubNub’s secure Publish/Subscribe messaging with guaranteed ¼ second latencies across PubNub’s 14 global points-of-presence. PubNub delivers secure communication through firewalls, proxy ser...
The industrial software market has treated data with the mentality of “collect everything now, worry about how to use it later.” We now find ourselves buried in data, with the pervasive connectivity of the (Industrial) Internet of Things only piling on more numbers. There’s too much data and not enough information. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Bob Gates, Global Marketing Director, GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, to discuss how realizing the power of IoT, software developers are now focused on understanding how industrial data can create intelligence for industrial operations. Imagine ...