How clean is your cloud, really?

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Clean is as clean does when it comes to cloud computing and green data centers. Much has been written about how cloud computing can boost energy efficiency as data centers move off of old power-hungry gear and into new greener sites.

But energy efficiency is just one measure of cleantech and there’s now increasing scrutiny of other green aspects, particularly with the cloudification of data centers.

What’s needed is a more holistic view of the environmental impact of data centers moving to the cloud, said Eric Woods, senior analyst with Pike Research, Boulder, Colo. Pike has predicted that the migration of IT to the cloud could cut energy consumption by nearly one-third by 2020.

The true cost-benefit analysis of moving to the cloud will take more than just a look at the energy bill. Where are these cloud data centers located? Are they in new facilities or refurbished older buildings? Are the companies making the cloud migration handling the e-cycling of old gear correctly? Are they in the footprint of utilities that are using significant amounts of renewable energy or largely coal? How efficient is their water use? And, equally as important, are they being up front about all of this?

There is a movement afoot by GreenPeace and others to rank just how clean these data center clouds are in terms of their siting, their energy sources, etc.  Some pretty big names–including Akamai, (s akam) Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo (s yhoo) — got pretty poor grades in some categories including visibility, meaning that they weren’t “fessing up” about some key criteria. Google (s goog) has made strides in transparency lately, including revealing its electricity consumption for the first time, and aiming for a third of direct clean power by 2012.

“We need to better, deeper understand the energy efficiency of those providing cloud services. If their data centers are running on coal power, they’re really not doing that much good. As always you have to look at a lot of factors and there are always tradeoffs,” Woods said.

All of that requires more metrics which organizations like The GreenGrid and GreenPeace are bringing to the fore.

“We have to move beyond just looking at [Power Usage Effectiveness] into measures of true productivity,” Woods said. The PUE score measures a how efficiently a data center uses energy throughout the year. As GigaOM Pro Green IT analyst Adam Lesser put it last week: It’s time to go beyond PUE in the data center (subscription required).

Last year, data centers accounted for 1.3 percent of all electricity used worldwide and 2 percent of all U.S. use, according to a report from Jonathan Koomey.

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