Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Wireless networks cast a shadow over ‘green’ cloud services

imageThe Australia-based Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET) has released a report that says the focus on the growth of data centres to service cloud services has missed the point. WiFi and cellular will soon become the dominant access method for these services. This ‘wireless cloud’ will grow by 460% between 2012 and 2015 with up to 90% of the energy consumption in 2015 down to wireless access technology and just 9% to data centres.

The report points out that major ICT industry players strongly promote wireless access to cloud services. The growth is supported by the increasing number of devices that don’t need a cable to connect to telecommunication networks, particular tablets and smartphones, which use WiFi or mobile networks.

imageResearchers have calculated the energy consumption of the wireless networks needed to support cloud services and factored in the growth of access via portable devices. The report – The Power of Wireless Cloud – warns that on current trends wireless cloud will consume up to 43 TWh in 2015, compared to just 9.2 TWh in 2012. That’s an increase in carbon emissions from six megatonnes in 2012 to up to 30 megatonnes in 2015, the equivalent of putting 4.9 million cars on the roads.

Dr Kerry Hinton, CEET Deputy Director said, “When Greenpeace analysed cloud efficiency it hit a nerve with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple by suggesting that data centres are to blame for a ‘dirty cloud’. In fact, the problem is much worse, data centres aren’t the biggest issue. The trend towards wireless is the real problem, and the networks are to blame. By 2015, the energy consumption of data centres will be a drop in the ocean compared to wireless networks in delivering cloud services.”

CEET, opened two years ago, is a partnership between Alcatel-Lucent, Bell Labs, the University of Melbourne and the Victorian State Government. It’s a research centre looking at energy-efficient telecommunications.


Review:  This is a detailed analysis of the energy used by wireless networks to access the cloud and makes worrying reading.

I guess the focus of concern in ICT energy use has been on data centres because they’re the most obvious, and visible, manifestations of the energy needed to power cloud computing. The wireless/mobile energy usage is more fragmented, in terms of where it is generated and by whom. So data centres have been the easiest target in reducing cloud energy.

Although reducing wireless energy use is more of a challenge, it doesn’t mean it’s not being addressed. The CEET is itself a research provider to the global GreenTouch consortium. GreenTouch has the aim of delivering, by 2015, the architecture, specifications and technologies – and demonstrating key components – needed to increase network energy efficiency by a factor of 1000 compared to 2010 levels. It has already had some significant successes - you can read more by searching the blog.

There is a need for green ICT to look beyond the obvious and ‘quick-win’ targets, such as data centres, where we already know much of what can be done. The focus must inevitably move on to the more difficult challenges, such as network energy use. With fragmented responsibility, it’s even more important that there is global, ICT industry-wide co-operation, through such organisations as GreenTouch. Unfortunately there are still some very prominent telcos that are not members of GreenTouch – BT, Deutsche Telekom and O2 to name just three.

© The Green IT Review

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