green cloud
Green cloud: what is it and why do we need it?

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Internet potrebbe presto diventare una delle maggiori fonti di emissioni climalteranti. E i servizi cloud, che da un lato permettono di ridurre i consumi, rischiano di contribuire ad allargare l’impronta energetica del settore. Per questo il green cloud è una sfida centrale nella lotta ai cambiamenti climatici e nella transizione energetica verso le fonti rinnovabili

Why do we need a green cloud?

We need a green cloud because energy consumption and CO2 emissions due to the cloud and the internet as a whole are constantly growing.

Today the internet consumes less than in the past for a single operation and data centres are getting bigger and bigger, thus allowing new economies of scale. In public clouds, we can store data and run softwares remotely with energy efficiency levels that are difficult to achieve in private data centres.

However, as described by the Jevons paradox, a technology that becomes very efficient tends to spread exponentially and ends up being more energy-consuming and polluting than ever.

In fact, the amount of data uploaded and downloaded is constantly growing. Not only the number of files transferred but also their size is increasing exponentially. So, in 2018 video streaming alone has come to generate polluting emissions equal to those of the whole of Spain.

The growth in energy consumption generated by the exchange of online data is destined to continue at an exponential rate, since:

  • Today, only half of the world's population has access to the Internet.
  • The amount of data produced and used by each user is increasing exponentially.
  • With the upcoming of 5G, there will be more and more devices connected to the cloud and more and more data to process.

Unfortunately, part of this energy still comes from fossil sources, like oil and coal. That's why if the internet were a country, it would be one of the 5 largest producers of CO2 in the world.

Green cloud is crucial for fighting against global warming and preserving natural systems. But what is it actually?

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What is green cloud?

Green cloud computing or just green cloud is the design and provisioning of cloud storage and computing services meant to minimize environmental impact. Green, in fact, means eco-sustainable. The long-term goal is a zero impact cloud technology, with no polluting and climate-altering emissions and no use of non-renewable resources.

Green cloud requires:

  • Data centres with zero or positive energy balance, which means capable of producing the amount of energy they need, or more.
  • Clean energy. Even better if produced by the same data centres, to reduce dispersions and the visual impact of power generation, by integrating them into the buildings.

The first step is to decrease consumption through highly efficient technologies, the second is to cover the entire energy needs from renewable sources.

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How much does the cloud pollute?

Cloud services, from data storage and exchange through to software execution and video streaming, are provided by data centres, buildings that house servers and the equipment needed to make them work properly, including UPS and air conditioning systems.

Servers run and consume electricity 24 hours a day. They also generate heat that must be constantly removed so that the machines do not overheat and can work properly. The cooling system, which maintains temperature and humidity at optimal levels, is precisely the part that has the greatest impact on building energy needs - up to 40% of the total .

Storing data in the cloud can be more efficient than using physical media, however the frequency with which documents are accessed may play an important part. For example, watching online videos for one hour a week consumes in a year as much as two new refrigerators .

According to a study by the European Commission, in 2018, the EU data centres

  • Consumed 76.80 TWh of energy. And an increase of 28% is expected by 2030, up to 98.52 TWh.
  • They used 2.7% of the entire European electricity needs. At this rate, they will reach 3.21% by 2030.
  • Edge data centres were responsible for 2% of energy consumption. A share that is estimated to rise to 12% by 2025.

According to IDC, between 2012 and 2019 the number of data centres around the world increased from 500,000 to 8 million and their energy consumption has doubled every year. In 2016, the world's data centres used more energy than the UK (416 TWh versus 300).

According to Greenpeace , in 2017 the IT sector already consumed 7% of the world's energy needs. And data centres are the part of the IT industry whose ecological footprint is growing fastest.

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European Union and green cloud

Non è un caso che l’unione europea consideri il green cloud e il green computing un punto cruciale per la transizione energetica e la lotta al cambiamento climatico. L’European Digital Strategy prevede che entro il 2030 tutti i datacenter siano ad emissioni zero, condizione imprescindibile per rendere l’Europa il primo continente “climaticamente neutro” entro il 2050, come previsto dal Green Deal europeo.

This is why in 2020, the European Commission published a study on Energy-efficient Cloud Computing Technologies and Policies for an Eco-friendly Cloud Market.

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Energy efficiency of data centres

Energy-efficient data centres are essential for the IT sector, and not only for environmental issues: limiting consumption is the only way to offer services at an affordable price. In fact, energy accounts for 70-80% of the operating costs of a data centre, and the percentage could grow with the progressive increase in atmospheric temperature and the cooling needs of the machines.

The energy efficiency of data centres is measured through the PUE - Power Usage Efficiency - parameter. PUE is the ratio between the energy actually used to power the IT equipment and the total energy consumed by the data centre, including the part needed for cooling the servers and compensating UPS losses.

Therefore, for highly efficient data centres it’s essential to:

  • design the IT infrastructure in order to facilitate ventilation and avoid overheating;
  • host the servers in eco-sustainable buildings, capable of maintaining an optimal temperature with minimal use of air conditioning systems.

Even better if the building that hosts the data centre is energy self-sufficient thanks to the integration of renewable sources. The most typical case is photovoltaic panels integrated into the roof.

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Green cloud solutions

The report Energy-efficient Cloud Computing Technologies and Policies for an Eco-friendly Cloud Market report identified the most common practices to make cloud services environmentally sustainable by improving the energy efficiency of data centres through:

  • Eco-design of the infrastructure
  • More efficient cooling systems
  • Heat recovery for house heating
  • Use of energy from renewable sources
  • Construction of data centres in cold regions
  • Software virtualization to make the most of the capacity of the machines

To reduce air conditioning costs, some companies have started building their data centres in very cold countries. However, this choice risks conflicting with the regulations on data localization and with the user’s needs of security.

In more temperate climates, it is important to take advantage of natural and forced ventilation to dissipate heat. The infrastructure should be designed in order to enhance air circulation, with an optimal node density. The entire building needs to be built to maintain the thermo-hygrometric conditions suitable for servers with minimal energy consumption.

To optimize the performance of air conditioning systems, some companies use artificial intelligence that constantly monitors and regulates temperature and humidity.

Another way to reduce the environmental impact of servers is to exploit the heat generated for district heating in urban areas close to data centres, by transporting the hot air through underground ducts.

Do you want to try a Green Cloud solution?

Babylon Cloud is the cloud storage platform with the lowest consumption per terabyte. We deliver our services only from data centres powered by renewable energy sources and over 55.000 users are lowering their emissions thanks to our technology. Learn more here.

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