Tech Companies Still Carry A “Dirty Cloud”

Greenpeace recently ranked Apple as the least green-friendly technology company, due to its reliance on coal to fuel its “dirty” data server centers. Could this one incident be the signal for an even bigger problem – the reliance of fossil fuels to help fuel green initiatives?

There was a time when tech companies lauded the rise of cloud computing, or the “outsourcing” of software installation, as a revolution in terms of industries going green. Yet this utopian dream of hosting services on faraway servers has instead become the very disruptive force that they sought to fight.  Greenpeace’s latest report, “How Dirty is Your Data,” paints a grim picture for cloud computing and the energy sources it requires. According to the report, data centers that house virtual information consume 2% of global electricity and this is rising at a rate of 12% a year.

Tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple are constructing data center clusters in areas such as North Carolina that are rich in dirty coal-powered electricity. Not to mention the IT industry is often cited as being the least transparent about its greenhouse gas footprint – so the exact environmental impact may be more than that above estimate.

This is, of course, just one side of the story. Google has invested more than $100 million in a wind farm in Oregon in an effort to step up its efforts in green technology for its data centers. It has also invested in other wind farms in the past four years in order to be the leader in going green.

Yahoo! has also committed to a green future by building a data center in its New York site that is said to be powered predominantly by hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls and will be cooled by air from outside instead of air conditioners.

Facebook’s Oregon data center has been said to utilize green technology in its operations, such as using natural wind to cool the servers as opposed to air conditioners (though Greenpeace maintains that the social network is far from decreasing its greenhouse gas emissions).

But are these efforts too little too late? In its report on Five Bold Predictions for the Data Center Industry, the Data Center Institute says that by 2015 power failures and limits on power will halt data center operations for more than 90% of companies. And with the failure of Amazon’s servers in recent memory, we can see what of a bleak near future that would be.

So where to from here? Is there a future for cloud computing services? Or, should this go down as another failed attempt at going green, like floating cities, eco-beer and soon, biofuels?

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