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Cloud Computing: Carbon Footprints in a Raspberry-flavored World

Published on 24 July 13
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The ubiquity of cloud computing offers a host of business advantages, and the technology has finally been around long enough to produce reliable data on its cost-effectiveness, speed and flexibility. But a sure sign of cloud proliferation is improvement; several critical initiatives are underway to bolster the cloudâs cost effectiveness, while also reducing environmental impact and perceived security risks.
I Love Lego!

A recent ZDnet article discusses a unique use for the childrenâs toy - by combining it with 56 credit card-sized computers known as âRaspberry Pi,â researchers from the University of Glasgow managed to create a working cloud modeled after the public options currently offered by big-name providers. Using the Lego to build server âracks,â the idea of the Raspberry Pi cloud is to give students a physical representation of whatâs often regarded as nebulous computing technology - most providers are extremely guarded about their infrastructure, even when itâs used to run massively public clouds.

Part of the projectâs benefit is the direct correlation between theory and practice, and part is price; according to Dr. Jeremy Singer, âfor an initial investment of less than -£4000, weâve been able to build a Linux-based system which allows researches and students complete access to a working cloud computing infrastructure.â While itâs not practical for big cloud vendors to roll out Lego-and-Pi systems just yet, this kind of initiative shores up the core flexibility of cloud computing - and ideally provides fertile ground for next-gen developments.
Leaving a Lesser Trail
Also of interest to cloud computing evangelists is the technologyâs environmental benefit. Long touted as a way to reduce energy costs and lower carbon footprints, it has nonetheless been hard to quantify these savings, especially on a large scale. Recently, however, the Berkley Lab conducted a study using whatâs known as the Cloud Energy and Emissions Research (CLEER) model, which âaims to provide full transparency on calculations and input value assumptions so that its results can be replicated.â

Ultimately, the study found that if all U.S. business users moved their email, customer relationship (CRM) and productivity software to the cloud, the savings could be up to 326 Petajoules, or 87% of the current total. To put this in perspective, the study uses the City of Los Angeles as an example; that much energy could power the metropolis for a year. In large part, these savings are due to the efficiency differential between local and cloud servers, since public cloud offerings are designed to manage large storage volumes from multiple sources and do so with the smallest carbon footprint possible - which means lower costs both for providers and for consumers.

Also of note among the Berkeley findings is the likely possibility that increasing cloud use will reduce the demand for physical goods. The study cites physical media for compact discs and newspapers - digital music on the cloud, for example, could reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions intensity associated with music delivery by 40 to 80 percent, and reduce similar costs for newspapers by 1 to 2 orders of magnitude. In effect, the Berkeley research is confirming what many businesses intrinsically know about public clouds: They offer a significant cost advantage, one which grows with use.
Digital Due Process

No discussion of cloud trends would be complete without mentioning security. Making headlines right now is the National Security Agency (NSA), which has been both championed and maligned for collecting user data online. The U.S. government currently rakes in huge tax revenues from big-name cloud providers, but these providers only stay big-name because consumers - and businesses - place a measure of trust in their services. If the NSA and similar agencies become too invasive, consumer confidence erodes, and thatâs bad news for business.

To deal with emerging privacy issues, several initiatives are underway to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), according to a recent GigaOm article. While the legislation adequately addressed electronic media exchanges in 1986, it now permits relatively simple seizures of things like Twitter messages and Facebook posts - all without search warrants. Not only have cloud providers joined with organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation to advocate for what they call âdigital due processâ to prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures, but updated versions of the ECPA are under review in the House of Representatives.

That cloud privacy concerns are now a national matter speaks to their role as critical technology underpinnings across both consumer and business sectors. Users have become accustomed to sharing their personal information with companies, and IT professionals in turn have become comfortable with the security offered by public clouds. These cloud deployments are now the de facto standard of use, enough so that national security agencies see the benefit in seizing server stacks and combing through storage media. In other words, the evolution here is forced through ubiquity - thereâs a need for real government action because the cloud is a force to be reckoned with.

The cloud is cost-effective, environmentally friendly and filled with sensitive data. As a result, students are learning to build better networks, entire cities could be powered by the energy saved and even the federal government needs to sit up and take notice: The cloud has arrived.
This blog is listed under Cloud Computing Community

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