Green Computing, the Cloud and the IT Channel
Cloud computing and green computing are two of the IT channel’s most popular catch phrases these days. It’s rare, however, to hear talk of how the one affects the other. But perhaps it’s time for that to change. Here’s why.
We’ve all heard the praises of the cloud by now: it makes computing cheap, scalable and highly accessible. As Victor Palau pointed out recently, however, another benefit of the cloud is its ability to cut energy use — and CO2 emissions — via the power of economies of scale. The shift to the could reduce energy consumption in data centers worldwide by 38 percent within 10 years, according to a report from the Open Data Center Alliance.
I’m not sure many CEOs or IT directors have taken much notice of this latter advantage of the cloud, which is not surprising given that electricity remains cheap relative to other computing expenses and that there are currently few hard legal imperatives for cutting energy use within the computing industry. Meanwhile, cars, planes and factories take most of the rap for pollution and overconsumption of resources in the eyes of the public at large, while computers are subject to much less scowling, a reality that probably stems from the fact that environmentalism predates the explosion of the computing industry.
Nonetheless, the Consortium for School Networking (COSN) reports that computers account for 2 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide — about as much as the aviation industry — a figure expected to double within the next four years. The intersection between cloud computing and going green, then, is more important than many observers may realize.
Green CPUs: Putting ARM in the Server Room?
The significance of environmental issues for the IT channel, however, extends beyond the cloud. As Palau also noted briefly, a concern with saving energy could also help drive demand for making servers themselves more efficient by reducing the energy consumption of the chips themselves.
Building more efficient CPUs, of course, is nothing new. Engineers have been working on that problem for decades. They’ve traditionally done so, however, in the interests of making chips cooler and extending battery life, not because they were worried about cutting CO2 emissions.
In a world where green computing becomes a real priority and not just a popular phrase, however, chip developers will face new pressures for reducing the electricity consumption of their products — even, perhaps, to the point of sacrificing performance or cost, which have typically always trumped concern for energy efficiency.
And that shift, in turn, could help bring ARM-based servers closer to fruition. Perhaps even more than the cloud, this area could be the crucial point of significance of the green revolution in the IT channel, contributing not only to the incremental reduction in energy use but also to the fundamental regeneration of the server room. The servers of the future, because of a commitment to energy savings, could be built around ARM chips that are lightweight and use less electricity, rather than the power-hungry and hot x86 CPUs that have dominated for decades.
Such a change, of course, will happen only if IT directors take energy efficiency truly seriously. Propelling adoption of the cloud as well as ARM-based servers could lead to unprecedented transformations in the server room.