Companies with computers on clouds gain flexibility and green credentials

30 March 2012 | by Rob Greenwood

This blog post was first published at the Guardian Media Network and is very much in their style. We appreciate their coverage :-)

The UK business sector has seen a significant shift towards sustainability models in recent years and there's no doubt that it's fashionable to be green right now. Energy efficiency is increasingly important for future technologies, mainly because of the increased use of IT, combined with the pressure of rising energy costs for businesses.

In principle, cloud computing or virtualisation can be inherently energy-efficient. A typical business could save up to 95% of its energy by using the cloud rather than an ineffective, older server.

Most datacentres are filled with physical hardware that is woefully under-utilised. Before virtualisation became the next big thing, companies would buy or lease physical hardware and deploy their services to those machines.

Now you have the ability to spin up a new virtual server, deploy your app to a cloud guest that has precisely the resources it requires and save the rest for future projects. It allows you to be super flexible and means your resource allocations can then be redefined and tweaked at any point, depending on how busy a site may be.

From a hardware point of view, this helps to ensure that every physical machine is being used to its full potential. In turn, it also changes the way that a system administrator works with the software you have. When coding a new web application, developers will be able to concentrate on getting things working and rather than optimising their code so that it works as efficiently as possible.

This has started to shift in more recent times, with developers putting real effort into reducing the footprint of their applications, allowing them to work in smaller, virtualised environments, rather than using a huge physical machine.

I think providers should be recommending virtualisation to businesses so that they're saving power and equipment wherever possible. Companies should look for suppliers that are willing to put their money where their mouth is because people are often encouraged to buy services in the cloud at a cheaper price than its non-environmentally friendly alternative.

Then there's the added bonus of a much greater resilience and higher service level agreements – it all means that end-users get an enhanced, greener service at a better rate, which seems like a pretty good deal!

It does sound like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Well, there are still some negatives that tend to crop up when people are considering the move, so it really depends on where your priorities lie.

One of the drawbacks people see in switching to cloud-based services is contention. When using them, CPU allocation and disk I/O are contended (input/output, the number of reads/writes a disk device can perform) – this means the more people working on a physical piece of hardware, the more performance will be affected. Effectively, you'll be fighting for space! On busier, more important services, this has the potential to cause problems and many companies will not want to risk this happening.

We're also seeing high-profile security breaches, which can discourage people switching to cloud computing, but there are ways to reduce this risk. As a business, you need to take all steps necessary to keep your data secure – wherever it's stored and whoever stores it. Companies should be wary of hosting others that pretend to have their own datacentre, when in fact they're simply taking space in someone else's. This is a widespread problem and means that you're placing your data (probably your most valuable asset) in the hands of an anonymous third party.

So, how important is the green agenda? Well, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, it could be the end of the world! Greenpeace estimates that server farms account for as much as 2% of the world's energy use – that's more than the whole of the UK. This is set to rise to 5% by 2020.

The real question is: how important it is to you and your business?

Daniel K-F, head tea boy @ Melbourne

Like what you've read?