Monday, April 7, 2014

Hidden Cost of Cloud Computing

An increasing number of companies and individuals are beginning to use cloud computing as a means of storing information.  Cloud computing is often defined as the practice of utilizing a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or personal computer.  There are numerous benefits of utilizing cloud computing.  Utilizing a cloud to store information is cost efficient, relieves companies of unnecessary hardware, and accessing and backing up information can be done with incredible ease.  The advantageous of cloud computing are apparent, however, a key disadvantage of cloud computing is one that cannot precisely be seen. 

            According to a report by environmental advocacy group Greenplace, “the digital cloud that holds your data may seem invisible, but the electricity that powers it comes with a major carbon price and climate impact” (Walsh 1).  If one were to “[aggregate] the electricity used by data centers and the networks that connect our devices, it would rank sixth among all countries” (Walsh 1).  The level of energy being utilized in order to store and manage data is unsettling, and the amount of data that is to be stored will certainly increase in the future.  Major Internet companies have realized this dilemma and have taken steps to make their respective clouds greener.  For example, Apple is “powering its iCloud exclusively through renewable energy…[and] Facebook now [utilizes] renewable energy to power its growing fleet of data centers” (Walsh 1). 

            Some large cloud service providers, however, are not putting forth the same effort.  A key example is Amazon.  Their cloud computing platform, Amazon Web Services, which hosts the largest amount of data of any cloud service, “has been silent regarding the environmental footprint of its cloud services” and powers its key data centers primarily with coal (Walsh 1).   Coal is a relatively cheap source of energy, but the health and environmental costs associated with the fossil fuel must force cloud service providers such as Amazon to make their clouds green.  Carbon pollution is a key contributor of the radical climate changes that have been apparent in our day in age.  Heat waves, floods, droughts, and storms are all a result of climate changes caused by pollution and these natural events are a legitimate threat to data centers.  A severe storm, heat wave, or flood may cause a data center to lose power, or may physically abolish the data center as a whole.    

Utilizing renewable energy, such as solar and wind, not only reduces carbon pollution emission, but also ultimately is less expensive, as these sources of energy become self-sufficient in time.  In the coming years more and more data will require storage, which will in turn require more resources to power the clouds.  Companies must strive to have green clouds, which will ultimately prove to be beneficial to the environment and the firms themselves. 

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