Cloud Energy Consumption: The Next Acid Rain Story?

Cover Story

Cloud Energy Consumption: The Next Acid Rain Story?

By Special Guest
John Day, VP of sales and marketing, Anord Critical Power Inc.
  |  March 08, 2017

The rise of cloud services and the Industrial Revolution (News - Alert) have more in common than most people realize.

The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in history. The revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to about 1840. It influenced almost every aspect of daily life.

The most important of the changes that brought about the Industrial Revolution were the invention of machines to do the work of many hand tools; the use of steam as a power source; and the adoption of the factory system. This new way of life literally changed the fabric of our society.

By comparison, the proliferation of cloud computing is one of the most impactful trends in the 21st century. According to

  • 82 percent of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy;
  • 10 percent of enterprises use a single public cloud and 5 percent use a single private cloud;
  • 14 percent of enterprises use multiple private clouds; and
  • 13 percent of enterprises use multiple public clouds and 55 percent use hybrid clouds.

Underscoring these percentages is 451 Research’s (News - Alert) Customer Insight, Voice of the Enterprise Cloud, which predicted that 56 percent of workloads would be in private or hybrid cloud environments by 2016.

Pundits attempt to predict the cloud’s future course by putting the various services and pieces into magic quadrants or analyzing hardware shipments and software use. However, a more accurate way to understand the path cloud services are now on may reside in looking back at the Industrial Revolution’s environmental impact.

The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in Earth’s ecology and humans’ relationship with their environment. Its full impact would not begin to be realized until about 100 years later in the 1800s.

The down side of the revolution was the byproduct from all the coal that fueled it. While the positive effect propelled human progress to extraordinary levels, it came at extraordinary costs to our environment. Powering these industries created a deadly cloud of smoke and fog we now simply refer to as smog. The smog actually caused thousands of deaths due to respiratory diseases because industries were releasing dangerous gases into the air. It was so bad that the Great Smog of London in 1952 killed 4,000 people.

Is the cloud about to produce another acid rain storm?

The underbelly of today’s cloud is made up, according to Data Center Knowledge, of 509,147 data centers worldwide, with 285.8 million square feet of space ­– enough to fit into 5,955 football fields. According to IBM (News - Alert), every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data from things such as posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and smartphone GPS signals. There is a tremendous environmental impact caused by the energy consumption that's just needed to process data for today’s 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions.

Bigger and bigger data centers are being created to process 2.5 quintillion bytes of data that are consuming an unprecedented amount of energy. Case in point: A well-known consumer product manufacturer is opening a data center in Ireland that could increase electricity consumption in the region by 8.2 percent, according to a document that can be accessed through Galway County Council's website. The company wants to use the facility to store European user data and to help power online services for customers across Europe. Since all data centers must operate continuously, the company's annual electrical energy usage is estimated at 2,102 GWh for the full build out of eight data halls. That’s a big carbon footprint for any company to produce.

There are silver linings to data’s big problem, and they reside in new, innovative ways to build optimized data centers. For example, Facebook’s (News - Alert) Open Compute Project is making server hardware an open source option. Now companies building data center facilities can use, modify, and optimize their designs – all for free.

OCP (News - Alert) is not a concept; Facebook built a data center in Prineville, Ore., and used OCP principles to lower its electricity consumption. Since Facebook launched OCP in 2011, the company has saved $2 billion, and sharing the innovation has helped other companies such as Fidelity Investments save 20 percent on its data center electric bills.

Other companies are helping data center facilities safely optimize and maintain their power distribution without disrupting one byte of data going to those 2.6 billion hungry smartphones. The innovation resides in a switchgear design based on the Form 4b Type 7 design standard.

This European standard offers a compact, fully compartmentalized alternative to switchgear based on the legacy UL891 standard that is commonly found in U.S. data centers. UL equipment built to Form 4b Type 7 construction has fully segregated busbars and functional components and allows maintenance engineers, machine operators, fitters, and others to access all internal components in a safe manner while power is still flowing. The value of the Form 4b Type 7 style switchgear option over the legacy standard UL891 is clear, with distinct advantages in size, personal safety, and internal safety.  

Simply put, switchgears offers the following:

  • The Form 4b Type 7 switchgear is listed to UL 891. So there is no issue with using this style of equipment in UL markets.
  • The smaller size leaves more room for revenue-generating, production equipment.
  • It has compartmentalization, which protects against a widespread shutdown by preventing fault spread due to human error.
  • Internal components protection in a segregated switchboard guards against damage that can occur in legacy UL equipment.
  • It features protection against commonplace injuries that occur in an unsegregated switchboard such as legacy UL891 equipment.

The philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist George Santayana said it best:  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The technology industry of the 21st century needs to heed the environmental lessons learned from the Industrial Revolution. If it does not, we are on a path to jeopardize the environment on our quest for a digitally enhanced social and corporate experience.

Data center engineers need to look to innovative companies such as Facebook that improve the current data processing methods. By embracing these innovations today, we can help ensure the clouds in tomorrow’s skies pose no threats to our environment.

John Day is vice president of sales and marketing at power distribution company Anord Critical Power Inc.

Edited by Alicia Young
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