The Other Side of the Cloud 

The Rise in Cloud-Computing and its Environmental and Economic Impact

Named by Gartner as the “Top Tech Trend for 2010,” cloud-computing has become an industry juggernaut. Already a $16.48 billion market, money is projected to continue pouring in at an annual rate of 27% over the next four years. And as theWall Street Journal reported earlier this week, the number of servers deployed in cloud applications is expected to triple to 1.35 million within the same time period.

This server boom could see data centers become a major cause of climate change. Greenpeace issued a well-staged warning on the eve of the iPad launch: at current growth rates, cloud computing greenhouse gas emissions will triple by 2020 (surpassing the energy consumption of France, Germany, Canada and Brazil — combined!). Greenpeace along with other environmental organizations are advocating for innovative solutions (like an app that calculates the carbon footprint of using different websites based on their location and energy deals) as well as common sense approaches (i.e. deferring to renewable energy sources or choosing more efficient solutions).

viewerFor many companies, the apparent choice is between opting to host pricey, new, energy-efficient servers in current data centers, or turning to co-location, outsourced, or bargain servers to meet their growing needs.

“At the rate that new server farms are exploding, I can’t imagine the nightmare it is posing to data center operations teams — to professionally manage both the physical aspects and their operations, while balancing the energy and environmental aspects of the data center,” said William Clifford, CEO of Spencer Trask & Co. Before joining Spencer Trask, Mr. Clifford served as Chairman and CEO of Aperture Technologies, the leading provider of data center infrastructure management software for the Fortune 1000. “This represents a truly herculean, if not impossible challenge, often leaving Operations managers to deal with the conflicting priorities inherent in energy, power and cooling versus their ‘green’ goals as they expand computing capacities.”

Organizations willing to embrace the “Green IT” movement can also realize cost reduction, increased operational efficiency, and ultimately optimize utilization of data center resources.  Solutions such as Aperture’s Data Center Infrastruction Management boast increases in productivity and efficiency through a few critical steps:

  • Right-sizing the data center. By finding the optimum capacity, effectively balancing headroom with risk tolerance (service level requirements), companies can recover the 8-10% of resources that are typically wasted.
  • Eliminating the “Silo Effect” between IT and Facilities. As stated by the EPA, IT and Data Center Facilities operating as distinct organizations, can lead to “split incentives” — those most capable of controlling the use of energy (Data Center Facilities) have very little incentives to do so.
  • Monitoring the data center’s energy performance to better understand the relationship between power, cooling, and computing.
  • Evaluating upgrades. Many of today’s data centers were built prior to 2002 and are not prepared to support high-density operations or to deliver power or cooling to racks operating at over 2 kilowatts where increased efficiencies can be realized.

The Spencer Trask Network understood the importance of data center management long before the market, providing early financial and strategic support to grow Aperture Technologies into the industry leader. Today it’s hard to find an individual or business that doesn’t rely on data centers to make it through the day. “When we first financed Aperture,” said Mr. Clifford, “I doubt even Spencer Trask fully understood the profound economic impact and geopolitical implications inherent in managing the physical assets of data centers.  The management of power, cooling, computing capacity and the environmental impact are all wrapped up in this complex organism called the data center – with the world watching how the balance between these factors will play out.”


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