Thursday, 27 September 2018

Cloud vs Humanity? The State Of Data Centre Energy Use In 2018

This week we published a report by Paul Johnston and Anne Currie on the state of energy use in the Cloud and how we, as consumers, can make ethical choices about hosting.

It's not merely an academic issue. Data centres may not be at the front of our minds but just because we don't think about them much doesn't mean they aren't vital. In fact, DCs play a major role in humanity's future. As Microsoft President Brad Smith points out they'll, "rank by the middle of the next decade among the large users of electrical power on the planet". We have reached the point that DCs are outstripping the aviation industry as carbon producers and within 5 years they may be on a par with all of transport.

That's crazy isn't it? Tech is supposed to be clean???

To us, the definition of unethical (even if it's inadvertent) is to do harm when you have the means and ability to avoid it.

The aviation industry gets a lot of stick but actually they try pretty hard to reduce carbon emissions. Only carbon-based jet fuel has the energy density to support mass aviation at the moment (although people are working on it).  In tech, we don't have that excuse. We need electricity to run servers not jet fuel and for electricity you have a lot of generation options.

So if this is so bad, why isn't anyone talking about it or doing anything? Well actually, some folk are. The Google Cloud (and all their servers) run on renewable power directly or offsets. That's solar, wind and hydro (though we'll personally also accept nuclear). The same is mostly true of Microsoft Azure. These tech giants are putting some of their vast profits towards cleanly generating the power they rely on. In fact, Aiphabet is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world.

Only Capitalism Can Save Us - No, Really

"But, the government will save us!", you might cry. These days I find I don't really want to rely on that and there's no need to. We can save ourselves. As DC customers, which most of us are, we can buy sustainable servers right now and it won't cost us anything more. We merely need to pay attention and apply a little bit of consumer choice.

As we describe in the paper, as consumers there's loads we can do right now to be sustainable:
  • For Google Cloud users, you're already sustainable. Congratulations and thank you.
  • For Azure users, you’ve mostly done it. Congratulations. Do ask Microsoft to speed up their switch from carbon energy certficates to renewables.
  • For AWS users, you can do it by transitioning your instances/resources to sustainable public regions (currently Dublin, Frankfurt, Canada and Oregon).
  • If you operate your own servers on prem you can choose a renewable energy supplier.
  • For everyone else, tell your Cloud or co-lo provider that Sustainable Servers - your Data Centre powered or offset by renewable energy - by 2024 is what you want.
Capitalism works in certain circumstances and this should be one of them. You have money. If you choose to spend it on sustainable rather than unsustainable energy for your servers then that's what you'll get and more sustainable generation capacity will be built.

All you need to do is state your preference to your Cloud, DC or co-lo provider. If you don't want to do that in person, just sign our sustainable servers petition and we'll even do it for you. This is a no-brainer. Please help.

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