Why Not Cloud?


One of the strategic goals for the Government of Alberta is to demonstrate leadership on climate change.  I think we can all agree that this is a very laudable goal.  Regardless of what Donald Trump and the head of the EPA in the U.S. state, climate change is occurring and we have an opportunity to play a leading role in the future of energy for Alberta and the world.

Microsoft states that their “global operations have been 100 percent carbon neutral since June 2012.”  That’s a little bit impressive.  Even more so when you consider that their Azure data centres achieved “carbon neutrality” in 2014 and continue to be carbon neutral.  Specifically with regard to cloud services, Microsoft states that “Moving to our cloud services can help businesses reduce energy use by 30 to 90 percent per user versus running on-premise services“.  They commissioned Accenture (a company I used to work for) to do a study on “The Environmental Benefits of Moving to the Cloud.”  One of the figures that was quite interesting was the comparison of the carbon emissions from an on-premise version of some Microsoft apps to the cloud-based version of the same app.

Kind of interesting the reduction in carbon emissions from going to the cloud.  One of the reasons for this reduction in carbon emissions is something called the “power usage effectiveness” ratio.  Essentially, if a data centre pulls 1 kWh of power to run the computers, how much does it pull to do everything else like cooling, lighting, etc.  In the U.S. there is no recent data but a 2009 study from the U.S. EPA (yup the same one as listed above) stated that most businesses average 1.97.  That means that for every 1 kWh of energy they use to fun the hardware, they pull an additional 0.97 kWh just to keep the data centre running.  More recent studies have indicated that the 1.97 may have been lowered to 1.7.

Azure boasts a PUE of 1.125, substantially lower than even the 1.7 number.  Thirty percent lower, in fact.  So, theoretically, if you rehosted all of our virtual machines into Azure we would reduce our carbon emissions by 30%, or more.  Granted, this is the real world so the actual number would be less, but not substantially.

Google states that their data centers average 1.12 PUE across all data centres.  Amazon says that their AWS cloud has all of its data centers below 1.2 PUE. Rackspace has their PUE at 1.15.  IBM, when you factor in all of their data centres comes in at a lofty 1.71 PUE.  This is due to the age of many of the data centres – 10 – 30 years – while the others could start off with fresh space.

If Alberta wants to be a leader with regard to how to respond to climate change, why haven’t we started the movement to the cloud?  I must be missing something.  If we can cut our carbon emissions by 30% or more, why wouldn’t we take advantage of what is being offered?  Can anyone help me out here?

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