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Interesting article from The Atlantic: The Environmental Toll of a Netflix Binge

13 Jan 2016 9:31 AM | Michael O'Neil (Administrator)
It can be argued that cloud defused a growing awareness about the environmental impact of data centres, in the same way (at at about the same time) that fracking derailed US concerns about energy security: cloud provided a way for companies to reduce internal data centre use/growth, offloading to an alternative source - in this case, hyperscale facilities that were more efficient than virtually all in-house operations.

However, a concern that shifts from sight is not necessarily a concern that has been addressed. Low cost, highly-available cloud services drives demand for compute resources (Canadian IT expert/environmentalist Bill St. Arnaud has been highlighting this for years, as an example of the Jevons Paradox). And cloud facilities draw an enormous amount of energy, and as a result, have a sizable environmental impact in their own right.

A recent article in The Atlantic calls attention to this issue, using a combination of anecdotes and statistics that make a strong case for promoting use of renewables in DC facilities.A couple of the citations - Google is "using about as much electricity annually as the entire country of Turkey," " a smartphone streaming an hour of video on a weekly basis uses more power annually than a new refrigerator" - may not be at the level of peer-reviewed scientific discovery, but are at least interesting for discussions at a trade show, or even a holiday party. 

The piece does not go into the important (if messy) question of "if not cloud, what?" This kind of discussion would likely suggest that cloud is a less-imperfect choice than thousands of distributed, low-efficiency facilities. But at least at a high level, it's good to be reminded occasionally of the big-picture issues that surround our focused business objectives.

The article is here - a long read, but worth the time! http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/there-are-no-clean-clouds/420744/

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