Does cloud computing really make things greener?
The Green Onion’s Three Layers
Recently my colleague Dhesi Ananchaperumal and I were invited to speak at several conferences on the topics of energy management and consumption, and cost reduction. During those sessions I was asked to share some of our experiences in our journey to providing a private cloud and to discuss whether the cloud made CA Technologies greener. In preparation for these sessions I realized that we had actually progressed through three levels of green awareness and maturity in our cloud’s early years. (You can watch a short YouTube video of one of our sessions here.)
Though it would make me very happy to begin by stating that we had a greener planet in our sights when we created our private cloud many years ago, that was not at all the case. We created our cloud to address a serious business agility challenge that was impacting product quality and extending our delivery times; and to address resource requirement challenges caused by demands that changed with our business lifecycle. It was only as our service matured that we realized that, in addition to addressing our agility and business cycle challenges, our private cloud had also brought some green benefits.
We did not truly appreciate this until we were asked to participate in an exercise to help reduce our corporate real estate footprint. We had been consolidating facilities routinely, though this project would require a concerted effort. In the first phase the team was asked to replace 19 labs. A second opportunistic project the following fiscal year required closing another 25 in one quarter. It was during this exercise, and all of the financial analysis that accompanied it, that we were made aware of some of the green benefits of our cloud implementation. We realized the cloud economics that are widely discussed now, and our focus on resource pooling, automation, and operational efficiency had resulted in the provision of services with reduced overall energy consumption.
Initially we focused only on the financial benefits related to reduced consumption. Though later we came to understand that whenever we were greener we almost always had reduced expenses, and when we reduced expenses we were often greener (as a result of reduced consumption). And as a cloud provider it was certainly a very good thing to have business value that could be relevant to both the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Sustainability Officer. It was also at this point that we realized just how valuable our partnership with the Finance team was.
2. Deliberately Green
Once we discovered this “collateral greenage” effect, we realized that it was an area that deserved some deliberate attention. Our company had begun to focus on sustainability as a key corporate initiative; and I cannot think of any company that does not have minimization of costs listed somewhere in their corporate objectives. We began to deliberately seek green benefits and focused on improving our infrastructure “with green in mind”. And whenever we were greener in this context, our costs were lower. The team was able to purchase less, to raise the chiller and air handler temperatures, reduce copper consumption, and reduce carbon consumption by thousands of tons. This resulted in a significant contribution to our sustainability objectives. (CA Technologies has recently become one of the top ten green companies in the United States.)
Deliberately Challenged – “It’s not that easy, being green.”
Though we had success with our deliberate initiatives, and our increased awareness and capability enabled us to be opportunistically green, we realized we were far from obtaining the maximum value possible, both in terms of cost reduction and green benefits. As well, creating reports that demonstrated the value of what had been accomplished was extremely challenging. It involved a lot of mind-numbing human effort, and many of the reports were of value for a very limited amount of time. A high priority “out of cycle” request for executive information could result in a 48-hour fire drill for one or more people; possibly worse if the data had never before been requested.
The impact of not having this data readily available created several challenges:
- How could we accurately identify targets for “green action”?
- How could we demonstrate the value of those actions in a business context?
- How could we be confident that the actions we took actually had the impact we intended them to have?
- How could we know when those actions added cost or made us less green?
3. A Measured Approach
And this is where the discussion returns to Dhesi. As we were trying to address these questions we had another “slap yourself in the forehead” moment. Dhesi, a friend and colleague, was now a customer of our cloud service. He had experience in this domain and, as we learned, was creating what became the CA ecoSoftware enterprise energy and sustainability management solutions. Of course, we turned to Dhesi for assistance and guidance (and software). Though what’s critical here is, as I have stated in other contexts, measurement is key. And improving the timeliness of the data, reducing the cost required to produce the measurement, and reducing the manual effort required (and potential for human error) will improve the effectiveness of such a program.
Are all clouds green?
So, does simply moving to a cloud make you greener? Probably. (How’s that for commitment?) There are two things to consider. First, there are some who are very good at “traditional IT”. Not knowing whether you are amongst those makes answering the question a challenge. Though if you’re not doing anything cloudy I would bet that cloud computing will make you at least a little greener. Second, it’s possible to do anything poorly, so I would bet there are some cloud providers (both private and public) who are not yet recognizing the full potential of cloud computing in terms of agility, expense reduction, resource optimization, and sustainability.
Overall I do believe cloud computing can “make you greener”. Though there are many other things that must also be considered when deciding whether to adopt cloud computing.