All sounds good but what about Green? | AccountingWEB

All sounds good but what about Green?

Hi - Have commented before that, following my sign up to online books, I'm sold on the whole idea and have been following the various threads (especially the excellent "Reaping the benes").  But, even after the security and "pregnant pause" issues of using this technology I have one major obstacle.

I may have missed it but, apart from a voluntary environmental element hidden away in the recent Code of Practice, I have not spotted any consideration of the environmental impact of The Cloud or, more directly, the data centres (ers) that keep it afloat.

Google, Yahoo & IBM make a big play about their energy & resource effeciency, with the former publishing quarterly PUE (Power Usage Effeciency) stats.  The US EPA has a Star Rating system to encourage DSs to make themselves as effecient as poss (not sure about the UK & Europe) however, what about me and my service provider?

My server consumes 210 watts (and so produces about 1 Tonne of CO2) pa.  I've not been able to find out the exact stats but I would hope that most of the juice I use goes into keeping the kit and network up and running, with any spare heat enabling me to move a notch down on my radiator.  

I read for every watt an average DS consumes only half goes to driving the kit so, with a service provider sitting on top of that, should I not check that I'm not just moving out of one fire into a much bigger one?  Or, without the Green motive, how much of my annual cost is going to power ineffecient service providers and their "bought in" data centres?

Any thoughts would be welcome, even if it's "don't care".

PS:  Was going to say that my server runs 210 watts "non-stop" but it failed last Wednesday and was only brought back to life 2 hours ago!  Still at least I've given the planet a little relief.

daveforbes's picture

Not a lot of difference either way

daveforbes | | Permalink

Your workstations will still use the same amount of power.

Whether the data centre is greener than your server or not is largely academic unless you go 100% cloud you will be running your server as well.

It is difficult account for everything - half the energy cost of a data centre is cooling but for a single server ambient cooling is fine. On the other hand last week a engineer had to come and visit you in his petrol powered van.

Paul Scholes's picture

Making a difference

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

What's at the heart of my question is that, unlike many other more conventional business sectors (eg building & transport), the IT sector and its users still retain conventional blinkers when it comes to wanting more, bigger, faster without realising that there is a cost over and above something with a £ in front of it, in fact worse, we now get more ooomph for our £1 than we did 5 years ago which, presumably will give the impression to some that they are making less impact.

Last week two clients each emailed me 4 scanned documents a total of 5 pages taking up nearly 30 Mbs.  A few years back my system would have fallen over but now their and my mail servers have them sitting there doing nothing.  Then I multiply this by millions and think of my kids uploading 50 x 6MB photos and 5 x 50MB movie clips of their latest trip and these all being available 24 hours a day to anyone on the planet.  As far as they are concerned it's all free.

The Cloud is the latest fashion and it's invisible but even with the tangible stuff, eg a PC, how many people realise that it has already done 80% of its environmental damage before it's taken out of the box and so the best thing you can do for resource effeciency is not to chuck it out when the front cover looks a little old fashioned in 3 years time but to ensure it's life is doubled or even trebled either here or in a country where a new PC costs a year's wages.

So hopefully my server will vanish within 18 months in favour I think of cloud based solutions, my workstations will be reused elsewhere and will be replaced by my existing laptops that use only a third of the power to do the same job.  Oh yes, the engineer will walk up to the office from 5 doors down and I'll supply the barrow if he needs to carry anything heavy.

Hugh Scantlebury's picture

Well done for bringing it up

Hugh Scantlebury | | Permalink

@Andrew Chan - you might be interested in the follow up on the coal powered Facebook data centre story.  In February 2010 Facebook made the following official statement:

"Our new data center will be receiving our power through PacifiCorp, which like most utilities has a diverse generation portfolio including hydro, geothermal, wind and coal. PacifiCorp is now the #1 utility owner operator of renewables, having grown their portfolio 2,400 percent over the past three years.

When it comes online in early 2011, the new Facebook data center will also be one of the most energy efficient in the world, featuring an innovative cooling system created for the unique climate characteristics in Prineville, Oregon.

The new, world class energy-efficiency technologies the Facebook data center will utilize include an evaporative cooling system; an airside economizer that will bring colder air in from the outside; re-use of server heat to warm office space in the colder months; and new patent pending highly efficient electrical design will reduce electricity usage by up to 12 percent. The entire facility will be built to LEED Gold standards.

The State of Oregon has a very aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard, calling for 25 percent of power in the state to be produced by renewable resources by 2025. Facebook believes this policy will ensure continued growth of renewable generation resources. Facebook’s commitment is, regardless of generation source, to use electricity as wisely and as efficiently as possible.”

Fair enough? 

Going back to Paul's original post though, we at Aqilla (a "cloud" vendor of web based accounting software) take green matters very seriously. In comparison with my experience from time spent with several other software companies over the years I can confirm that we as a modern technology company formed four years ago:

  • Hardly use any paper.
  • Encourage customers to make the most of our on-screen reporting and drill through technology before resorting to hard-copy print out.
  • Encourage customers to make use of the capability to store scanned documents in the application so they don't waste floorspace, rent, rates, heating and more lighting on filing cabinets.
  • Use little or no plastic (no CDs, DVDs, packaging etc.)
  • Have fewer in-house servers, consuming less power. In house servers (as opposed to servers at our data centre also turn themselves off and on as necessary when people are not at work).
  • Customers no longer need a whole dedicated server for themselves but share resources with others in a very secure manner (this week I met a Sage user who had been given their very own Windows / SQL-Server just do data analysis!).
  • Our data centres in comparison share resources with 1000s of businesses in terms of rthe supply of cooling, heat, light etc.
  • Have no need for in house air-con to cool server rooms.
  • Do not waste heating and light on machines.
  • Work a lot remotely reducing business mileage whether by road or rail (we use Skype and GoToMeeting a lot).
  • Keep our desktop PCs and laptops longer (our web based software will still run happily on a 10 year old PC or Mac).
  • Follow an appropriate responsible, ethical and environmental supply policy as recommended by the Good Corporation standard (

Finding a green business imperative was in fact one of the major factors in starting a web based application software (or SaaS) business in the first place. If you are interested in such issues, it is a bit of a no-brainer. I would encourage others wherever possible to do the same.

Finally, the UK based M-Institute ( which is headed up by Paul Druckman and Jyoti Banerjee, have been making inroads towards developing key policies concerned with accounting for sustainability in medium sized organisations. There's a number of interesting opinion articles on their site worth taking a lot at.

Jyoti Banerjee's picture

Greening our IT

Jyoti Banerjee | | Permalink

Hugh, thanks for mentioning the attention that sustainability gets in M Institute ( I certainly think that as sustainability in its fullest sense (environmental as well as social impacts, plus governance) gets deeper attention in board rooms across the world, companies will seek the best business advantage that they can obtain from sustainability.

A recent study of 275 Fortune 1000 companies by Accenture found that the top 50 companies on sustainablity metrics delivered a superior business performance to the bottom 50 as evidenced by improved shareholder returns of 16% over 3 years, which grows to 38% over five years.  So the best performers are strong on sustainability. Is it cause and effect? Not sure, but I don't care. It's the end-result that counts.

Going back to the original question, will the cloud deliver greener IT? I saw a recent study by Microsoft which should give small enterprises and medium enterprises a lot of heart when it comes to the cloud: systems with less than 100 users use something like 70% less energy when cloud-based, compared to on-premises systems. (Yes, I know that the industry jargon is on-premise, but that's just poor English...).

Given that much of the cloud is about virtualisation, you can see how running less servers has got to be good news when it comes to energy use.

But energy is only a small  part of sustainability, albeit currently pretty high profile in the context of climate change. Sustainability also needs to cover wisdom in procurement as 75-85% of a company's sustainability impacts are tucked away in its supply chains.

Wisdom, eh? Who would think that it would be a valid business concept in the 21st century, but its making a good comeback. Because sustainability is really about a lot of common sense. We can do with that today.

david_terrar's picture

Some Green IT Resources

david_terrar | | Permalink

Hopefully use of the Cloud will mean more of us keeping existing desktops and laptops for longer as we move our real resources to the Cloud, and then those Cloud vendors adopting a green IT strategy as part of what they do.  My mate David Tebbutt edited and contributed to the excellent Green IT for Dummies (download sponsored by HP) which will give you a good start on the topic.

Here is Greenpeace suggesting that Cloud providers need to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. 

Lasly, another mate Kate Craig-Wood (with whom I have no affiliation) co-founded the very green hosting company Memset who are worth checking out.

David Terrar and

daveforbes's picture

Watt ?

daveforbes | | Permalink

We have 16 PCs running at between 40 and 80 watts with LCD monitors at c. 20W.

We have two small servers running at 60W and 130W but no monitors.

Arithmetically what do you mean by "systems with less than 100 users use something like 70% less energy when cloud-based" ?


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