ICLOUD / DROPBOX ? IS DIRTY ! WHY ?

Activist group Greenpeace today issued a new report entitled How Clean is Your Cloud?, targeting major Internet companies including Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft over their heavy use of coal-derived power for their massive data centers.

Given the energy-intensive nature of maintaining the cloud, access to significant amounts of electricity is a key factor in decisions about where to build these data centers. Since electricity plays a critical role in the cost structure of companies that use the cloud, there have been dramatic strides made in improving the energy efficiency design of the facilities and the thousands of computers that go inside. However, despite significant improvements in efficiency, the exponential growth in cloud computing far outstrips these energy savings. Companies must look not only at how efficiently they are consuming electricity, but also the sources of electricity that they are choosing.

The study covers 14 Internet companies, but singles out Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft as the biggest offenders. According to Greenpeace’s data, Apple is the only one of the 14 companies to derive more than half of its data center power (55%) from coal. Apple also ranks third in the share of its power needs coming from nuclear sources.


Greenpeace acknowledges Apple’s work to build a 20-megawatt solar farm and 5-megawatt fuel cell facility at its new data center in Maiden, North Carolina, but downplays their significance by claiming that the facilities will cover only 10% of the site’s power needs. Greenpeace specifically takes Apple to task for its decision to locate its data center in North Carolina, which reportedly maintains one of the dirtiest power grids in the country. In particular, Duke Energy is continuing to invest in coal and nuclear power options while investing “very little” in renewable energy. A similar situation exists in Prineville, Oregon, where Apple has announced plans for another data center.

To deliver iCloud services, Apple has dramatically expanded its data center infrastructure. It has invested at least $1bn in an “iDataCenter” in North Carolina, one of the world’s largest data centers, and just announced another facility to be built in Prineville, Oregon. Unfortunately, both of these investments are powered by utilities that rely mostly on coal power. Given the lack of transparency, siting policy or a clear commitment to power the iCloud with renewable energy, Apple is finding itself behind other companies such as Facebook and Google who are angling to control a bigger piece of the cloud.

Apple maintains a significant environmental section of its website, including disclosureson its Maiden data center, which the company believes is the only data center of its size to achieve a LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. But while Greenpeace gives Apple some credit for its steps, the organization continues to give Apple poor marks for a lack of complete transparency about its data center power demands and publicly-available policies regarding the energy considerations for its projects.

While Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft take the brunt of Greenpeace’s criticism, Yahoo and Google receive high marks for their policies prioritizing renewable energy in their projects and for promoting policies to increase investment in renewable energy. Facebook also receives high marks for its recent commitment to renewable energy, including its latest data center in Sweden that can be powered with 100% renewable energy.

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