Are Cloud Datacenters Greener and Cleaner?

By Ed Lucente

August 19, 2010

These days everyone seems to be dropping the word “cloud” both inside and outside of the IT industry. Cloud hype is so far off the charts that recently I thought I heard a Boston Red Sox announcer ask David Ortiz (aka. “Big Papi”) for his opinion of IT as a service from the burgeoning cloud computing paradigm. (I don’t think this really happened, but somehow I equated cloud computing with some other topic being discussed on TV at Fenway Park.) My point is that there is ample cloud confusion out there.

Various organizations, like Open Cloud Manifesto, have established a cloud computing “taxonomy” that by now you’ve heard. Cloud deployments, they say, come in three flavors:  IaaS; PaaS; and SaaS. Cloud implementations can then be described generally as private (on-premises), public (off-premises), or hybrid (a mix). Unfortunately, cloud service provider solutions don’t always fit neatly into these categories. For example, some private cloud services offered by cloud service providers, like Savvis, are not actually located in the client’s data center. Instead, Savvis provides each client with tight security measures — like firewalls and intrusion protection — and private networking options to connect to Savvis’ U.S, U.K., or Asian cloud data centers. Each Savvis client also accesses dedicated physical IT resources, so physical resources are never shared with other clients (zero multi-tenancy). Cloud taxonomies do help to frame cloud IT conversations nevertheless.

Of course, the topic of cloud data center benefits seems to continuously heat up with every new cloud announcement, especially from large IT vendors. Witness Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference on July 12th, which hosted over 13,000 global software development partners and boasted Microsoft’s Azure platform and appliance to facilitate private, public, and hybrid cloud deployments. For Microsoft, this show represented the official dawn of “IT as a Service.” Already, 70% of Microsoft’s 40,000 developers are working on cloud products and services in 2010, and over 10,000 customers are on the Azure platform, which encompasses the IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS implementations. Said differently, the Azure roll-out represents 38,000 people or organizations, or the capacity of Fenway Park including standing room!

Okay, but whether it’s Azure or some other cloud platform (e.g., Google, Amazon, IBM, CA) what real benefits are going to be delivered via cloud data centers?

Below is a sample laundry list of cloud benefit buzzwords just to give you an idea of how widely scattered opinions are, but also to demonstrate the hype, hope, and promise of cloud computing, which I borrowed from TheOpen Group’s “Cloud Computing Business Scenario Workshop”, August, 2009. Potential cloud computing benefits (or “pain-point killers”) were grouped into nine categories and then ranked in priority order, as follows:

• Timeliness/agility

• Resource optimization

• Cost

• Need to remove obstacles to innovation

• Security.

• Risk management

• Compliance

• Need to improve quality of IT support

• Business continuity

These are the potential cloud data center implementation advantages expected over time, but these seems too complicated, let alone difficult to memorize for a customer meeting. So, I have pinpointed the three or four cloud computing characteristics that continuously pop out for me and customers.

For starters, the key cloud enablement technology is virtualization, typically at the server level (e.g., VMware, Hyper-V, Zen); however, many other IT resources can be virtualized (and should be), including storage, network fabrics, I/O, memory, applications, and even databases. Once most IT resources are virtualized by the abstraction layer, theoretically the sky’s the limit as far as how big you can scale out a cloud data center. Rapid deployment, or agility, is another frequently cited benefit in the IT cloud, ranking number one in priority in The Open Group Workshop aforementioned.

Many other beneficial “efficiency factors” come into play with cloud data centers as well, so it’s not just about virtualization. For example, significantly fewer IT administrators are required to operate virtualized environments thanks to:

• IT standardization practices that create more predictable, highly controllable environments.

• Improved systems management software that automates many processes, eliminates the majority of human errors, and allows IT folks to focus on their most challenging applications or customer problems.

• Persistent reusability or repeatability of applications and processes. (Let’s face it, if you keep doing the same thing over and over, sooner or later you get really efficient at doing it!)

So it turns out that with scaled-out size along with these efficiency factors and others enable tremendous economies of scale when cloud data centers are well-designed and operated.

The newest data centers being run by the likes of Google or Microsoft are enormous and boast cost efficiencies 5-10X greater than traditional, “un-virtualized” enterprise data centers, which are also typically smaller in size. The efficiency benefits inherent in cloud data centers come in different forms when best practice design and technologies are implemented at both the facility and IT operation levels. Benefits include things like superior energy efficiency, higher availability, and better performance.

Perhaps most crucial (and I’m guessing usually never brainstormed in professional IT workshops) is that a business can run a massive cloud data center with 100% clean energy sourced from a nearby hydro-dam or wind mill farm. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are doing exactly that today in the US Northwest. Ultimately, a business can achieve a zero-carbon IT operation and then brag about it in their annual sustainability or corporate social responsibility report.

Actually, when you think of it, introducing the efficiency benefits of cloud data centers as being simply “greener and cleaner” is a much better place to begin cloud discussions — for IT professionals, sports announcers, and Major League baseball players like Big Papi.

About the Author

Edward J. Lucente is V.P. of Business Development at Data Center Rebates, Inc., an IT efficiency consultancy based in Carlsbad, CA, whose professional services focus on data center energy efficiency (DCEE), leasing integrated with technology refreshes, and negotiation of IT energy rebates. (Ed is a rabid Red Sox fan also.) Please feel free to email comments to

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