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Greenpeace Report on Cloud Computing Veers Toward Incoherence

The Dutch Organization Seems to be Doing Badly at Trying to do Good

A new Greenpeace report, entitled "Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and Its Contribution to Climate Change" has just been released. It encourages Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others to be responsible in what power sources it uses for its new data centers.

It frets that Cloud Computing--defined in this report exclusively as the Consumer Cloud of gmail, etc. and all the stuff that people might download to the new Apple iPad--will have an enormous, deleterious carbon footprint.

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Specifically, it excoriates Facebook for commissioning a new data center in Oregon that burns coal. This seems to have been the precipitating incident that drove Greenpeace to write this report. The recent Apple iPad announcement serves as a nice foil in the group's argument as well.

The report reads to me as an attempt to grab some low-hanging fruit for the purposes of a much larger, more serious issue. After all, it's easy enough to pick an Apple from the tree or face off with some other famous company to grab some publicity.

Not Written by Writers
A few statements in the report jumped out at me:

* "...the iPad received more media attention than any other gadget in recent memory." I guess that depends on one's definition of recent. It seems the iPhone received a lot of attention, as did the iPod, and well, any announcement that Apple has made since 1984.

* "Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs finally showcased his company’s latest creation before a rapt audience in San Francisco. From their smart phones and netbooks, the crowd feverishly blogged and tweeted real time updates out to a curious world." I'm not sure why the "finally" is there, but the cliche-ridden nature of this purplish prose makes me think its author should enter the next Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing (the contest's website notes its location as the place "where WWW stands for wretched writers welcome.")

* "(the) iPad...is a harbinger of things to come." Yeah, in the way that the sixth inning of a baseball is a harbinger of things to come. The iPad is just the latest in a long line of personal-computing devices that stretches back at least to the Apple Newton in the 90s, or maybe the crude dynabooks of the 80s.

Haphazard Inelegance
OK, so I think the report was badly written. That doesn't necessarily undercut any important message it might have. But I found its selective naming of names to be haphazard. For example, I wasn't sure why the Rackspace logo was thrown into an inelegant little graphic early on.

A nice fat quote from Michael Dell about how IT can drive not only an efficient economy but a green one was featured prominently, and confused me further, as it appeared without any apparent connection to whether Michael or the company that bares his name was considered to be a good guy or a bad guy by the standards of Greenpeace.

I sent out inquiries to the companies whose logos were featured prominently in the Greenpeace report: Amazon, Yahoo, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. I also contacted the many other companies whose names were dropped into it.

I'm writing this story from Asia, so it was the middle of the night for most of these people when I contacted them, but I'll continue to update this report as I hear back.

Microsoft was the first of the big guys to respond. Francois Ajenstat, senior director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft, said in part, "In planning for and running all of its operations and facilities, Microsoft takes into account its environmental impact, including energy use and carbon footprint as well as land and water usage."

He continued, as follows: "For example, our Quincy, Washington data center was designed to reduce its carbon footprint by using the available hydropower as its primary source of energy and in Dublin, Ireland we use the naturally cool outside air to cool the datacenter." We have a separate story with Microsoft's full response.

Many of these companies also have extensive material available on their websites about their programs with respect to energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, and related good-corporate-citizen issues. Rackspace takes things a step further, and has a Greenpeace Initiative prominently featured at its site.

A Sub-Par Chart
I was also confounded by a chart that broke "ICT" (what Euros and Asians call IT) into several "sub-sectors."

The sub-sector chart appeared as a non sequitur to me. All of a sudden, there was HP! And Dell! Intel! And Ericsson (huh)? There was a telecom category, but NO companies mentioned! Oh yes, SAP was in there, too.

The companies were grouped in color-coded fashion, with numerous sub-topics scattered across it in the manner of a roomful of people thinking out loud, or perhaps chimpanzees trying to create Shakespeare.

The Numbers Missed It by Thiiiis Much
Then there were the numbers in this report, which themselves came from a study called Smart 2020. The study's were The Climate Group and The Global eSustainability Initiative, both Europe-based organizations. The problem with reports like this is they have an agenda going in. It doesn't matter if one agrees with said agenda, but it does matter that such a report will be written through the prism of that agenda.

The Climate Group says it doesn't have an agenda, yet its website says the group wishes to "set the world economy on the path to a low-carbon, prosperous future." You see, that's an agenda.

Even so, I would feel more confident in analyzing, dissecting, and reporting on the numbers in this report if not for yet another pesky statement that jumped out at me:

"While the Smart 2020 report did a very credible top-down analysis of global data centre consumption, it is important to compare this with a bottom-up approach. Based on the 2007 bottom-up analysis conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), the estimated electricity consumption of US data centres is 1.7 times larger than the top-down analysis by the Smart 2020 report estimated for the US and Canada combined."

How's your weight these days, Roger? "Well, I'm around 200 to 340 pounds. I'm keeping good tabs on it."

What's the dosage of this powerful medicine, Doc? "Oh, between 10 and 17 milligrams, something like that."

Hey, what kind of mileage will I get on this new car? "Between 20 and 34 mpg." (Actually, that one's close to the lies what car manufacturers tell you.)

What's the escape velocity of the earth, fellas? It's important we get these folks in orbit? "Hmm, it approaches zero at some point, you know. But on the surface, I'd say somewhere between 8 and 12.6 kps."

The issue of global climate change is indeed a serious topic. It requires a much more serious report than this latest effort from Greenpeace, in my opinion. Has anyone else read it? What do you think?

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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