Monday, 17 May 2010

US and UK governments adopt a cloud computing strategy – have they thought it through?

It seems a long time ago now, but on Earth Day Nexgov reported on US government plans to focus on cloud computing as a means to deliver greener ICT operations and a greener economy as a whole.  Federal CIO Vivek Kundra was quoted as saying that by consolidating data centres, working from home and sharing IT resources through cloud computing, agencies will become more environmentally responsible. 

Apparently in February Kundra sent a memo on data centre consolidation to agency CIOs pointing out that federal data centres grew from 432 in 1998 to more than 1,100 in 2009.  More recently he has said that agencies are using only about 6% of their IT infrastructure.  His February memo directed agencies to look for data centre consolidation that provides opportunities for cloud computing.  The idea is to incorporate plans into fiscal 2012 budgets by the end of August.

Cloud computing is becoming a focus for greener IT delivery for two main reasons.  Firstly, providing on online solution service – the one-to-many model such as Software-as-Service (SaaS) – is much more efficient than in-house installations in small data centres or on local servers.  The other reason is the flexibility.  Users can work from anywhere, as long as they have access to the cloud, so working from home is easier and commuting reduced.

The US is not alone in looking to the cloud.  As we reported in January, the UK government has made cloud computing part of its new ICT strategy - ‘Smarter, cheaper, greener’.  One of the key measures is the establishment of a Government Cloud, or ‘G-Cloud’ as it’s being called, providing multiple services from multiple suppliers.

In both the US and UK cases the move to cloud computing is accompanied by efforts to improve the efficiency of data centres from where the cloud is provided.  In the US the EPA is addressing the issue with better energy monitoring and planned Energy Star data centre certification.  In the UK, government data centres are to be consolidated down from ‘hundreds’ to 10-12.

This is really the crux of the issue.  Cloud computing will inevitably increase data centre use, so its success in reducing emissions in the long term depends on the extent to which emissions are reduced in data centres.  Making the move is the easy first step.

In its report ‘Make IT Green - Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change’ Greenpeace expressed its reservations about the move because of future data centre emissions and posed four essential questions for cloud-based computing data centre investment:
• How big is the cloud in electricity consumption and GHG emissions and how big will it become?
• Where will the cloud be built and what sources of energy will be
powering it?
• How may large data centres impact the surrounding load centre’s demand for fossil fuels?
• To what extent will efficiency and design improvements reduce the rate of growth?

Clearly moving to cloud services should be accompanied by a long-term strategy, bearing in mind the sorts of issues that Greenpeace raises.  However, in the US and UK it’s likely that much of these public sector cloud services will be provided from the data centres of IT services companies, many of whom are making significant progress in data centre efficiency and the use of renewable energy. 

Most major IT suppliers are now building comprehensive cloud services to meet the demand.  Fujitsu, for example, launched its global cloud strategy at the end of April, no surprise, given the company’s role as a major public sector supplier in the UK.

© The Green IT Review

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