Greenpeace Asks ‘How Clean is Your Cloud?’

By Tiffany Trader

April 17, 2012

“How Clean is Your Cloud?” – that is the question asked by a Greenpeace report released today. Written by Gary Cook of Greenpeace International, the annual report examines the energy choices made by leading IT companies in the race to become the dominant cloud provider.

Greenpeace - How Clean is Your Cloud?Three companies in particular, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, were brought to task for unsustainable practices, such as engaging in rapid growth without an adequate energy strategy and for powering their clouds with “dirty energy.” All three companies rely heavily on coal and nuclear energy.

The report assigned letter grades to 14 Web-scale giants in four categories: Energy Transparency, Infrastructure Siting, Energy Efficiency & GHG Mitigation, and Renewables & Advocacy. Amazon got 3 Fs and a D. Apple, with 3 Ds and and an F, did not fare much better. Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Twitter received a mix of Cs and Ds.

The only companies to receive any As (and it was only one each) were Akamai and Google. Google scored the highest overall, with an average B rating (two Bs, a C, and an A), while Yahoo received 3 Bs and a C.

“Yahoo and Google both continue to lead the sector in prioritizing access to renewable energy in their cloud expansion, and both have become more active in supporting policies to drive greater renewable energy investment,” Cook writes.

The primary cause of all this energy-suck is the engine inside every cloud infrastructure, the datacenter. Cook notes that datacenters are the factories of the 21st century, relied on to process and store staggering amounts of data. In fact, it’s possible for one mega-sized datacenter to draw as much power as 180,000 homes. The main issue, according to the report is that while the datacenters often employ the most innovative technologies, their energy sources do not.

“Despite significant improvements in efficiency, the exponential growth in cloud computing far outstrips these energy savings,” Cook writes.

A 2010 Greenpeace report, Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change, examined the power requirements of mega-datacenters and called attention to cloud’s growing energy addiction. The findings are bleak:

  1. The electricity consumption of data centers may be as much as 70% higher than previously predicted.

  2. The combined electricity demand of the internet/cloud (data centers and telecommunications network) globally in 2007 was approximately 623bn kWh. If the cloud were a country, it would have the fifth largest electricity demand in the world.

  3. Based on current projections, the demand for electricity will more than triple to 1,973bn kWh, an amount greater than the combined total demands of France, Germany, Canada and Brazil.

In April 2011, Greenpeace released How dirty is your data? A Look at the Energy Choices That Power Cloud Computing. Similar to this year’s report, it assessed the energy awareness of major IT brands and recommended ways for those companies to increase their green computing leadership. Further, Greenpeace was clear that IT has an essential role to play in the move to clean energy technology, stating that “we cannot achieve the level of [CO2] reduction need[ed] to protect the planet without IT energy solutions that will allow us to shift away from dirty energy sources and build our economic and planetary prosperity on clean sources of energy.”

Despite marketing-driven attempts to portray the cloud as inherently green, in truth a lack of transparency makes it difficult to evaluate these claims. Still, there are signs of progress. For example, the report points to collaborative efforts that are working to establish best practices for energy-efficient hardware and software design.

Several of the companies outlined in the report are taking a proactive role in assuring their future energy demands can be met with renewable energy sources. In particular, infrastructure citing policies, such as those enacted by GreenQloud (Iceland), Yahoo (New York), and Facebook (Sweden) leverage available renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectric, geothermal and hydropower. Google has also both made a commitment to using renewable energy in future cloud expansions under a so-called power purchase agreement, a long-term contract with a utility or renewable energy provider.

Cook points to the Carbon Utilization Effectiveness (CUE) standard as another helpful tool, but only if companies start using it. Out of the 14 cloud vendors included in the report, only Akamai had begun submitting this information.

Today’s Greenpeace report cites a 2011 report from The International Energy Agency (IEA) that warned: “unless a decisive shift is made to clean energy investment and away from high-carbon sources of energy like coal, in the next five years (by 2017), the Earth will be locked into a disastrous cycle of unavoidable global warming.”

While there have been some positive steps, the report’s final analysis is that there is a substantial disconnect between the energy problem and current efforts to find a solution. As major consumers of electricity, large Internet-scale providers are in a position to influence market dynamics and affect energy policy. To that end, Greenpeace calls on companies “to make a corporate commitment to engage in energy policy decisions in regions where they establish operations.”

The Greenpeace report lays out the following specific guidelines to be included in discussions around clean energy advocacy.

  • Adoption of clean energy investment incentives specific to the IT sector for energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment.
  • Development of cost-effective, regionally compatible sources of renewable power generation for data centers (such as solar, wind, tidal and wave power).
  • Additional investments in the development and deployment of grid infrastructure and energy storage technology to enable much higher utilization of variable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

The report summary provides a nice encapsulation of the environmental watchdog’s vision of sustainability:

“By making better energy choices and demanding more from utility vendors, cloud companies have the opportunity to be a catalyst in driving utilities and governments toward the development of cleaner electricity generation that will ensure a truly green cloud for their long-term sustainability – and a greener grid for us all.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

AI in the News: Rao in at Intel, Ng out at Baidu, Nvidia on at Tencent Cloud

March 26, 2017

Just as AI has become the leitmotif of the advanced scale computing market, infusing much of the conversation about HPC in commercial and industrial spheres, it also is impacting high-level management changes in the industry. Read more…

By Doug Black

Scalable Informatics Ceases Operations

March 23, 2017

On the same day we reported on the uncertain future for HPC compiler company PathScale, we are sad to learn that another HPC vendor, Scalable Informatics, is closing its doors. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Strategies in Biomedical Data Science’ Advances IT-Research Synergies

March 23, 2017

“Strategies in Biomedical Data Science: Driving Force for Innovation” by Jay A. Etchings is both an introductory text and a field guide for anyone working with biomedical data. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HFT Firms Turn to Co-Location to Gain Competitive Advantage

High-frequency trading (HFT) is a high-speed, high-stakes world where every millisecond matters. Finding ways to execute trades faster than the competition translates directly to greater revenue for firms, brokerages, and exchanges. Read more…

Google Launches New Machine Learning Journal

March 22, 2017

On Monday, Google announced plans to launch a new peer review journal and “ecosystem” Read more…

By John Russell

Swiss Researchers Peer Inside Chips with Improved X-Ray Imaging

March 22, 2017

Peering inside semiconductor chips using x-ray imaging isn’t new, but the technique hasn’t been especially good or easy to accomplish. Read more…

By John Russell

LANL Simulation Shows Massive Black Holes Break ‘Speed Limit’

March 21, 2017

A new computer simulation based on codes developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is shedding light on how supermassive black holes could have formed in the early universe contrary to most prior models which impose a limit on how fast these massive ‘objects’ can form. Read more…

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Japanese Supercomputing Project Targets Exascale

March 14, 2017

Another Japanese supercomputing project was revealed this week, this one from emerging supercomputer maker, ExaScaler Inc., and Keio University. The partners are working on an original supercomputer design with exascale aspirations. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Debuts HGX-1 for Cloud; Announces Fujitsu AI Deal

March 9, 2017

On Monday Nvidia announced a major deal with Fujitsu to help build an AI supercomputer for RIKEN using 24 DGX-1 servers. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC4Mfg Advances State-of-the-Art for American Manufacturing

March 9, 2017

Last Friday (March 3, 2017), the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing (HPC4Mfg) program held an industry engagement day workshop in San Diego, bringing together members of the US manufacturing community, national laboratories and universities to discuss the role of high-performance computing as an innovation engine for American manufacturing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel and Trump Announce $7B for Fab 42 Targeting 7nm

February 8, 2017

In what may be an attempt by President Trump to reset his turbulent relationship with the high tech industry, he and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich today announced plans to invest more than $7 billion to complete Fab 42. Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This