Cloud Computing is Green Computing – right?

A colleague passed me this link recently,, and I happen to disagree quite strongly with Matthew’s assumptions.  In particular, his statement “2) Cloud computing is almost by definition green computing“.

In order to explain myself, one has to look at the companies that Matthew is talking about: Google and Microsoft.  Both companies own multitudes of massive data centres – the vast majority of which are populated with identikit servers.  This is the important fact: Google and Microsoft ship their servers in by the pod-full and they are almost all identical, because that is how they ensure scaleability and efficiency.

However, if you’re a data centre manager considering your consolidation and virtualisation strategy, I hope you’re also thinking really carefully about your existing estate of applications.  Broadly speaking (with thanks to Sun Microsystems/Oracle), applications thrive on three different types of architecture and by closely matching your application to that architecture, you will achieve the greatest performance and therefore the greatest use of resources and efficiency.

The three types are:

    1. High I/O, data throughput
    2. CPU Intense
    3. Multi-Threaded

Now, in reality, many applications are a combination of one or more of these types, but most clever developers will allow you to split the app out when you’re installing it thus:

    1. Database software
    2. Main Application
    3. User/Web interface

Now let’s return to the examples of Google and Microsoft – Google’s servers are tuned for search – that’s what they do!  Any other type of application may struggle to achieve effective performance and will waste resources.  Microsoft’s servers are tuned for their web service offerings: email, Sharepoint, etc…don’t expect a CPU-Intense application to thrive – it will waste resources as well.

Until a cloud provider comes along with an environment that automatically shifts applications to the server architecture best suited to its performance, this will always be the case and the ‘Green’ness of the Public Cloud will lag the Private Cloud accordingly.

I presented last week at the JISC Conference 2011 on Best Practices in Data Centres.  One of the conclusions from this event was that the cloud isn’t for everyone.  If you already own a data centre then you should be trying to make it run as effectively and efficiently as possible (we’ve proved this can be done even on the ‘Micro’ scale).  When you look at new services and applications, then evaluate your cloud options at that point.

For the HE/FE Sector, will be offering a brokerage service to ensure you de-risk your cloud ventures – it would make sense to consider this as the fallout from getting this move wrong could seriously set-back your IT strategy for the next few years… and maybe your career too!

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About Steve Bowes-Phipps

Over 20 years of operational systems management experience, specifically managing data centres since 1996. After a stint managing data centres and IT operations in the UK and Ireland, joined ambitious web hosting company GlobalCenter who were expanding from the US into Europe. Sitting on the senior management team, oversaw the building of five data centres in London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Paris until Exodus Internet bought the company in 2001. There, moved into a more strategic role, dealing with blue chip customer issues and relationship management, process improvement and building a culture of continuous improvement. Spent four years in Visa Europe managing strategically important projects and processes. In 2007, joined his Alma Mater, Hertfordshire University, to become their head of Data Centres and has been working with the UK’s Higher and Further Education IT funding arm, Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) ever since, to assist in embedding Green ICT in UK HE and FE institutions, and more recently across the EU as well. In 2010, the University of Hertfordshire became the first European university to comply with the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres, and was recognised in the European Datacentre Leaders Awards 2010 Uptime Institute Green Enterprise IT Awards (GEIT) 2011 and the EAUC Green Gown Awards 2011. In addition, Steve has lead the University to win three internationally-acclaimed awards.

  • Richard Stern

    Steve, My new project is looking at moving into the Cloud from a legacy hosted data centre. At the moment the strategic decission has been taken to only look at Web Hosting, but as with the Amazon Cloud solution (AWS) it’s “Elastic”, what this means is you can uplift and downshift your capacity as your production requires, for example at weekend’s you could close your virtual servers down and on Monday re-start them. So it could always be considered Greener than your own. Also the scale of these Cloud providers is immense so scale of economies can be had. You’re right of course it still doesn’t stop us making our legacy data centres more efficient and as yet the Cloud is still in it’s infancy, in time I can see it taking over. Oh and yes there is Fully Managed Cloud offerings and Public Cloud which also has an impact on whether it’s the right solution for your company, it’s not good building a full hosted solution in the Cloud when it uses the same infrastructure you’d have in your data centre. It also could be a good solution for Diaster Recovery and Business Continuity. Time will tell.

  • Richard Stern