No, the Cloud Is Not a Green Technology

There is a myth surrounding the cloud regarding it as a green technology. Though we love cloud computing, people tend to think that if they bring their technology to the cloud, they’re being green. Much of this misconception comes from the cloud providers themselves, but a lot is from general misunderstandings of what the cloud is.

Since the cloud is nothing more than a rented data center that someone else owns, cloud computing itself can’t be much greener than any other data center technology. For example, in our own data centers, we have our own routers, switches, firewalls, storage — everything we need. Cloud providers’ data centers contain that identical technology that you would have in your own data center. The only difference is, in our data center, we manage our own servers. When we use a cloud provider, they manage those servers for us.

In our own data center, we might not need to buy 5,000 servers. We may think that by going to the cloud, there’s no need for 5,000 servers. However, a cloud provider needs to buy the same 5,000 servers that you would have in the data center to support you and your enterprise. Many people don’t realize the cloud provider needs to buy an equal number of servers they have in the data center because they don’t understand that the cloud is just somebody else’s network in a data center. If you have 10,000 servers in the data center with 128 cores and six terabytes of RAM, the cloud provider will need the same number of servers. Instead of buying them yourself, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, or Dell buys the same quantity of cloud computing hardware.

Now, the next thing that leads to this misconception of the cloud being “green” is regarding what many people is in a data center, which might utilize our equipment better due to virtualization like being able to put virtual machines (VMs), storage , or whatever else we need where we want. Though VMs do allow greater utilization of cloud technology, we’ve been using a virtualized environment with either VMware ESXi, QEMU, or KVM in data centers for the last 20 years. For the last two decades, we’ve been moving around our virtualization and decoupling our storage environment with block storage technologies. Every kind of economy of scale that we get in a well-run cloud provider, we get in a well-run data center. This means that, for decades, the cloud has never truly showcased itself as a “green” technology.

Now, in a data center, we have to build our own networks. By doing so, we can generate extreme performance and critical security. On the cloud, we don’t build as much of that network. This might equate to a little bit of electrical savings but remember — the cloud providers need to buy bigger routers in greater quantities. These are going to generate more heat by using more electricity. Although there is a slight benefit regarding the consolidation of a network, its energy savings are minimal. Whatever you don’t buy, the cloud provider has to buy, because they still need the same technology in their cloud networking.

While there could be an argument made for some of the cloud providers to use greener sources of energy, we still have the problem of heat generation. Servers, storage, graphic components — all the technology we need to operate a working cloud — generates heat. So, if we’re really talking about “green” technology, we’re not talking about dispersing more heat into the atmosphere, we’re talking about a generation of heat that is coming from the servers. Whether that heat and energy usage comes from our own data center or that of a cloud provider, that heat and high energy use are still going to be there.

Whether you’re building your own modern data center using more green technologies, or whether you’re using the cloud data center with more green technologies, it’s just a matter of where your equipment is located. Is it located in your data center, or is it located in the cloud? Now if we’re comparing 40-year-old data centers to modern cloud computing environments, more modern technology like virtualization and containers are absolutely greener. But again, in any traditional data center throughout the last two decades, we have been using virtualization. So the cloud, which is a virtualized network and datacenter, is just a newer version of the same technology. The names change, but the technology is the same.

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