Apple is the”nuclear” cloud of cloud computing

Greenpece word mark

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According to Greenpeace is Apple the number one polluter when it comes to running cloud computing data centers. But is this really true? Any student or researcher will tell you that if you put the question right you will get the answer you have hoped for and in this case it is as true as ever. So what did Greenpeace try to investigate?

“The ‘cloud’ is IT’s biggest innovation and disruption. Cloud computing is converting our work, finances, health and relationships into invisible data, centralised in out-of-the-way storage facilities or data centres. This report seeks to answer an important question about this trend, currently underway across the globe: As cloud technology disrupts our lives in many positive ways, are the companies that are changing everything failing to address their own growing environmental footprint?

Well, of cause it will be more polluting is because in the question you have excluded any other alternative. It is like asking if the windmill industry is polluting well of cause it is because you do not consider the alternative.

Greenpeace sets out to describe some of the key learning points that they have discovered.

Key learnings:

•Data centres to house the explosion of virtual information currently consume 1.5-2% of all global electricity; this is growing at a rate of 12% a year.

We should be happy that more and more of the data that we store are centralized so that we utilize the combined capacity of these facilities instead of multiple decentralized and inefficient systems which will cause even more pollution.

•The IT industry points to cloud computing as the new, green model for our IT infrastructure needs, but few companies provide data that would allow us to objectively evaluate these claims.

Well yes according to Greenpeace but try making the math and consider the alternatives e.g. a underutilized server in every home, business and governmental organization that consumes just or close to as much energy if it running at 20% or 99% capacity.

•The technologies of the 21st century are still largely powered by the dirty coal power of the past, with over half of the companies rated herein relying on coal for between 50% and 80% of their energy needs.

The world have failed to realize that coal and oil is a resource that is running out but mostly because the US have made a combined effort to combat any green legislation both nationally and internationally. So if companies in the US want to have alternative they will have a hard time finding any valid alternatives on the market for green energy.

•IT innovations have the potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy, but IT’s own growing demand for dirty energy remains largely unaddressed by

the world’s biggest IT brands.

I think that cloud computing is a greener alternative to more traditional means of data storage.

•There is a lack of transparency across the industry about IT’s own greenhouse gas footprint and a need to open up the books on its energy footprint.

This is quite true. There is very little knowledge about what the carbon emission impact of the big IT companies actually is. It makes me wonder how and why Greenpeace can make such bold statements about the environmental impact of these companies.

•In emerging markets, where there is limited reliable grid electricity, there is a tremendous opportunity for telecom operators to show leadership by investing in renewable energy, but many are relying on heavily polluting diesel generators to fuel their growth.

Well Greenpeace does not actually know this as they state in their report “Clean Energy Index and Coal Intensity are calculated based on estimates of power demand for evaluated facilities” so in reality it is just a guess that this is how things are done at the facilities and not based on any real evidence or investigation. I could properly have come to the same conclusion if I had looked at a map of power plants and compared this to be the different datacenters are located.

•Data centre clusters (Google, Facebook, Apple) are cropping up in places like North Carolina and the US Midwest, where cheap and dirty coal-powered electricity is abundant.

It just underlines my guess that the survey was done based the placement of different facilities and comparing them to the most likely energy source. The claim of Greenpeace is properly true but with the evidence presented they do not actually know this.

•IT companies are failing to prioritise access to clean and renewable energy in their infrastructure sitting decisions.

This is true but growing energy prices are changing this.

•Of the 10 brands graded, Akamai, a global content distribution network, earned top-of-the-class recognition for transparency; Yahoo! had the strongest infrastructure siting policy; Google & IBM demonstrated the most comprehensive overall approach to reduce its carbon footprint to date.

It sounds good that IT companies are becoming more transparent but this does not make the Greenpeace report any more scientifically valid.

•Across the board, IT companies have thus far failed to commit to clean energy in the same way they are embracing energy efficiency, which is holding the sector back from being truly green.

What is truly green according to Greenpeace?

So is Apple the worst of the worst in cloud computing… well we don’t really know do we?

You can read the full Greenpeace report here.