Is it really greener in the cloud?

Is it really greener in the cloud?

“It’s greener on AWS”, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this sentence at Amazon conferences.

Is this mantra that companies repeat to look cool true?

Ecology, the new spearhead of companies

Year after year, companies, and especially large groups, put forward their efforts always to be “greener”. Each company is, of course, more committed than its competitor. I wonder how we can still have problems related to pollution with so much commitment?

Let’s not fool ourselves, ecology is not really what interests many companies, but rather the profitability that it brings, at several points:

  • Improvement of the company’s image in the eyes of public opinion
  • Quite drastic cost reduction in some “ecological” solutions, such as for example the elimination of plastic bags in supermarkets or the elimination of straws in fast-food restaurants. These costs are not passed on to the customer, even though they represent substantial savings.
  • Free advertising in the media

Nevertheless, I think that some companies are convinced by ecology and are making real efforts to reduce their footprint on our planet. However, the primary focus often remains the profitability that this brings.

It’s greener in {{insert your cloud provider here}}

Cloud providers are the first to put the spotlight on ecology, thanks to their optimized data centers and the massive pooling of resources. If you look at the one-to-one between a private data center and the cloud, the raw advantage is often for the cloud. However, from my point of view, this is a biased viewpoint, which only shows the tip of the iceberg.

Making resources work optimally

Let’s start with how the cloud works. To enable the customer to use it, we will provide GUIs and APIs to drive their services. The latter are ultra-redundant and always ready to handle a heavy load.

We are also going to have to make monitoring and metrology available to observe the behavior of the underlying infrastructure (I’m talking about the infrastructure that the customer does not see), and be able to react instantaneously in the event of an anomaly.

It must also be taken into account that in order to provision services so quickly, the cloud provider has at its disposal a permanent fleet of machines, even if they don’t work. Building a server, for example, requires rare metals, and this simple step is already polluting.

The Cloud, a growth factor

Many companies will say that migrating to the cloud has allowed them to be faster, more responsive, more scalable. To meet ever-increasing demand and to extend and diversify their products.

Behind this point lies another reality: there is no such thing as one-to-one migration. By moving to the cloud, we will often try to diversify our market, to put more services, more machines and therefore consume more.

At the end of the day, the cloud is not so green when you grow up in it.

The explosion of network consumption

The advent of the cloud also brings a new issue. The consumption of bandwidth always more important. Today, it seems normal to watch an episode of Netflix in 4k, or to download game updates of several GB, or to send the latest fashionable video on Facebook. Yet the network is expensive in terms of energy.

To access one of the sites I mentioned above, your connection regularly passes through dozens of servers. These servers consume more and more energy as our consumption is always increasing.

Many companies have become too used to their customers having a fiber connection, which is more and more common in France, or a 4G connection. In the process, they have abandoned slower connections.

As an anecdote, a few years ago, I was playing the game Ghost Recon: WildLands published by UbiSoft. I had an ADSL 2+ connection (with an average download speed of 1 to 2 MB/second). I ended up stopping playing the game because each update weighed several GB.

It’s time to reduce our network consumption, and this also goes for companies who have to think about these points while developing. Whether it’s differentiating algorithms for updates, or simply reducing the weight of their website pages (many websites require more than 10 Mb to display their homepage!).

As an example, Netflix consumes 15% of the world bandwidth alone (October 2018 figures), which is just colossal!

Entrepreneurs, it’s up to you to set an example!

To conclude

I think the cloud brings a lot of improvements to the IT landscape. On the other hand, a lot of companies hide behind the “greener” side of things to give themselves a clear conscience.

Reducing the ecological footprint also involves business choices, such as reducing the bandwidth needed to use services. It also requires more concrete actions than just saying we’re running on the cloud … or removing straws!