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Google: App Engine is energy efficient & carbon neutral

A lot has been written about how cloud computing is often times more energy efficient than when companies host their own IT infrastructure. But Google’s App Engine platform as a service is not just more efficient, it’s also carbon neutral.

The technology we’ve built for App Engine is “remarkably efficient in its resource usage,” says Peter Magnusson, a director of engineering at Google. It’s on the order of “10 times more efficient than running it on infrastructure as a service.”

That’s partly because Google has spent years building energy efficiency into the core of its web architecture. The company famously designs all of its data centers and servers from the ground up to maximize efficiency. Google has been praised by competitors and researchers alike for its ability to curb the energy consumption of its massive data center infrastructure.

But that’s also because of the efficiencies inherent in lumping together applications in one system, and sharing compute power across many servers. “We have massive multi-tenancy; we’re serving over a million applications on this thing, we have a quarter million active developers on it,” said Magnusson. Magnusson compares the architecture efficiency of App Engine to the efficiencies inherent in a skycraper.

In comparison, if a developer, say, hosts his own IT in his basement, it’ll be a lot more inefficient. “If you move computation to a data center in an efficient area and you connect that with fiber, then you’re moving the work to a place that can be sort-of dealt with in an efficient way.” The consumer electricity grid is the least efficient part of the grid of them all, and local utilities vary in what sources they use for power generation, said Magnusson.

In addition to the energy efficiencies, using App Engine also means the applications that run on it are carbon neutral. That’s because Google’s entire data center infrastructure and company operations have been carbon neutral for years. The search engine giant has invested considerably in clean power, also buys carbon offsets to make up for the rest of its carbon emissions.

All of Google’s efforts with its carbon footprint are a sizable investment for the company in both time and money, which is why the team wanted to talk to me. Some of Google’s platform-as-a-service competitors can’t offer the same thing, though some like Microsoft are now working to become carbon neutral. At the same time, the energy efficiency measures in Google’s architecture are actually a money saver.

My big question is will Google’s efforts translate into valuable branding for App Engine? Will developers and end users care about the energy efficiency and carbon neutrality of the platform as a service? The reality is, a lot of them won’t. But down the road if the U.S. takes carbon emissions more seriously, and ever enacts some kind of carbon policy, these things could become more important for branding purposes.

At the end of the day, buying IT services should be the opposite of how you buy produce, says Magnusson: “It’s the inverse of the buy-local farm produce problem. No, you don’t want to consume your IT locally. Trust us.”

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