Everyone is moving to the cloud, leaving giant imprints on networks globally and potentially creating an environmental mess that may be hard to clean up, according to a recent report from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)
Internet and most other data traffic is fast migrating to the cloud, and some industry observers are saying mobile IT specialists might soon be doing even enterprise networking and communication management activities on tablets. The Cisco report supports at least the view that cloud data is growing at an exponential pace. "Cloud computing traffic will grow 12-fold from 130 exabytes to reach a total of 1.6 zettabytes annually by 2015, a 66 percent compound annual growth rate," the company said.
Perhaps you are wondering what that translates into. I have to admit to being equally mystified by the numbers. What exactly is an exabyte or zettabyte, and what can we compare these with if we wish to make sense of them? Luckily, Cisco didn't leave us in the dark. The Internet and networking equipment vendor says 1.6 zettabytes of data is equivalent to:
22 trillion hours of streaming music
5 trillion hours of business Web conferencing with a webcam
1.6 trillion hours of online high-definition (HD) video streaming
What are the implications of this fast growth for the high-tech industry? What kind of environmental footprint will this leave, and who should bear the burden of cleaning it up? Who's going to be supplying the equipment to support this enormous traffic and storage? Who will service the equipment and provide software support? Where will these servers be hosted, and what are the security implications for companies, nations, and individuals?
We can't answer all these questions here, so why don't we focus on what I think will quickly become a public relations hazard for the high-tech industry if it doesn't find ways to counter the growing impression that cloud computing traffic will hurt the environment. Don't blame consumers; a large chunk of cloud computing traffic occurs in the cloud itself, rather than externally, according to Cisco. Last year, 77 percent of cloud traffic remained within the datacenter, and the company expects this figure to drop only to 76 percent by 2015.
My conclusion from this is that cloud computing is far more complicated than many admit, and companies will have to spend a lot to figure out how to use the technology responsibly. Other researchers have reached a similar conclusion.
A recent report by Ecodesk, a sustainability data publishing site, says the shift to cloud computing is affecting carbon emission targets in the electronics industry. Companies like Samsung, Intel, Microsoft, Apple, and Fujitsu are reporting higher emissions because of their increased use of cloud computing.
CO2 emission figures are also rising at these companies (particularly at Samsung and Intel) because they chose to include figures from their entire supply chain in their reports. This means they are not limiting themselves to internal operations and are therefore considered "responsible" companies, Ecodesk says. "On the surface they look like big polluters," but in reality they've adopted an approach that should raise overall performance and cut total emissions as supply chain partners comply.
"Tech companies in particular are leading the charge and being very bold by forfeiting their own emission targets to embrace the emissions produced by third parties," said Robert Clarke, the CEO of Ecodesk. "The shift to embrace cloud computing and supply chains has meant that each company that embraces what we feel is the most comprehensive model experience their own emissions shoot up, although the overall impact on the environment is reduced significantly by cloud computing and supply chain imperatives."
Ecodesk's suggestion for managing cloud computing activities is for companies to ensure they deal only with partners whose services are "clean," rather than "dirty." Clean cloud computing services providers "use renewable power sources and highly advanced efficiency in power consumption, from lighting to cooling."
How clean are your company's cloud services? If you don't have a ready answer, that's already a problem.