Greenpeace slams cloud computing, Facebook, Apple for using dirty power
Relying on electricity from coal-fueled power plants expands environmental damage, report says
Despite Amazon's troubles with EC2, it turns out there is a greater danger in cloud computing than the possibility the cloud will let you down at the wrong moment: It could also cause the seas to rise, the air to foul and the cute baby seals and whales to be slaughtered mercilessly.
Cloud computing and the Internet – in the form of computers in data centers worldwide – use two percent of all the electricity generated worldwide and are increasing their demand by 12 percent per year according to a new report from the environmental-activist group Greenpeace.
The power required to run all the data centers worldwide would be enough to power 50,000 U.S. homes per year. If the Internet were a country, its demand for electricity would make it the fifth-largest consumer of power in the world.
The power required to fuel searches on Google generates 260,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide – enough power to run a single freezer for 5,400 years, according to a 2005 study on global power use by Internet marketing company WordStream.
Google, which got top marks from Greenpeace for getting only 18 percent of the electricity it uses from dirty coal-fired power plants, made today's search icon an Earth Day (April 22) Valentine to cute endangered animals and plants, but didn't include any data centers at all.
Facebook, which didn't do any custom Earth Day logos at all as far as I can tell, got a slap from Greenpeace for getting more than half its power from the increasing number of data centers in the Midwest, where most of the electricity comes from coal-fired plants.
The cloud appears to have nothing at all to do with either the Greenpeace report or any of the animals it clearly wants to protect from the Internet.
It's just a hot buzzword Greenpeace uses to keep its analysis of electricity demand from information technology in the news.
Not that IT power demand is not a legitimate issue. It is.
The tech industry and companies that buy from it have been reducing power use overall and by individual components for at least a decade, though.
Cloud computing, by concentrating vast compute power in data centers that are a lot more power-efficient than thousands of small server farms, should actually reduce overall power use.
Greenpeace actually saved its big artillery for IT vendors, including Apple, Facebook, IBM, Google, HP, Twitter and Yahoo – all of which have more celebrity name appeal than "cloud."
Apple gets special focus from Greenpeace's evil eye for relying on coal-powered sources of electricity for 54 percent of its power.
That could rise even higher if it goes ahead with a $1 billion new data center in North Carolina, which gets 61 percent of its power from coal-fired plants.
That's bad enough, especially for a company whose image is the most nature-issue-friendly of any of the big IT vendors. Apple will do its greatest environmental damage not by building a data center in North Carolina, however, but by its proposed name: iDataCenter.