You may have heard stories of recent data center projects that have required local electricity providers to make significant changes to their power grids, because of the massive power requirements for the processors, media and air-conditioning. Well… they’re not just stories! It takes a lot of electricity to run large scale IT resources, especially when they standardize on constantly spinning hard drives to store all the data. If you’re eco-conscious, you might wonder if the advantages of online storage are justified compared to the size of the carbon footprint – the amount of carbon emission from all those servers in the cloud.
Moves to Make the Planet Cleaner
While data centers themselves don’t give off smoke (hopefully), for the power generating stations that supply their electricity it may be a different story. In many economies, coal-fired and oil-fired power stations are the norm. These have some of the biggest effects on the environment. Some cloud providers like Google therefore make a point of locating new data centers in areas where the electricity is generated from renewable sources with little or no pollution. Scandinavian countries are particularly well-positioned for this: examples include Sweden’s extensive use of water-driven power generation, and Iceland’s use of geothermal generating sources.
Other Possibilities to Reduce Power Consumption
The larger the data center, the greater the impact of new technologies in reducing power consumption. Spinning disks may be replaced by Massive Arrays of Idle Disks (MAID) where the drives reduce the power they consume when they are not being accessed. Solid state disks with no moving parts and very high energy efficiency are set to be used considerably more in larger data centers. Their big advantage is their rapidity; their big disadvantage until now has been their high cost, but new flash memory technologies are beginning to significantly reduce prices. Finally, tape, the technology that everybody loves to be rude about, is probably one of the greenest storage media of all as well as being one of the least expensive. Tape systems take as little as one-twentieth of the power needed to run comparable disk-based systems.
Will Your Data be in the Greenest Data Center?
You’ll probably never know. As the cloud is designed to move data around between data centers to optimize both security and resource utilization, your information could be anywhere – although some providers let customers specify they want their data to be held within a certain region. Looking at it from a point of view of probability, the cloud provider making the biggest efforts to go green is the one where you’re most likely to use an eco-friendly resource. So check out the provider’s website and press releases to see what it’s doing and how that aligns with your preservation preferences.
End-to End Greenness
The natural counterpart to a green online file storage service is a green computing device. Solid state devices like tablets and smartphones consume less power than desktop PCs and local spinning disk drives. By moving to new generation mobile solutions and electing to use cloud providers with a proven policy of reducing power consumption and carbon emissions, you can get all the advantages of online files storage and backup while doing your bit to save the planet too.
Yet, not all cloud service providers are indeed the greener option. This Financial Times video discusses it further: