Whose cloud is the dirtiest --- Google's, Microsoft's, Facebook's, or Apple's?

By Preston Gralla

Which cloud computing heavyweights are greenest in their use of electricity for the cloud, and which are the dirtiest? Greenpeace has just released a report about it, and how Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and others fared will surprise you.

The report, "How dirty is your data?" looks at the energy use of top companies providing cloud-based services, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon (Amazon Web Services), Akami, Facebook, HP, Twitter, IBM, and Yahoo. (You can download the entire report here.)

Generally, Greenpeace is not impressed with the greenness of any of the companies. It says they are too dependent on the use of dirty energy like coal, largely ignore renewable energy, and pay little attention to the effects of their data centers on the environment. It has this to say in its executive summary:

Many IT brands at the vanguard of this 21st century technological shift are perpetuating our addiction to dirty energy technologies of the last two centuries. We analysed the data centre investments of 10 top global cloud companies and our findings show a trend across the industry towards extolling the external effects of IT products and services, while failing to take seriously the need to power this widespread aggregation of the world's information with clean, renewable electricity.

So how did the companies do? As a whole, very badly. Apple was the worst of the bunch, by far, with a dismal 6.7% Clean Energy Index (the worst of all 10 companies), a 54.5% Coal Intensity Index (again, the worst of all 10 companies), an F for environmental awareness when it comes to instructure siting, and Cs for its transparency and its environmental mitigation strategy.

Google did much better than Apple, with a 36.4% Clean Energy Index (second best), a 34.7% Coal Intensity Index (around the middle of the pack), and an F for transparency, a C for infrastructure siting, and a B for mitigation strategy.

Microsoft also easily bested Apple, with a 25% Clean Energy Index (reasonably well, compared to others), a 34.1% Coal Intensity Index (around the middle of the pack), a B for mitigation strategy, and Cs for transparency and infrastructure siting.

Facebook, meanwhile, has a 13.8% Clean Energy Index (the lower middle) a 53.2% Coal Intensity Index (second worse, to Apple), Ds for transparency and mitigation strategy, and an F for infrastructure siting.

The best of all was Yahoo, with a 55.9% Clean Energy Index, an 18.3% Coal Intensity Index, a D for transparency, a B for infrastructure siting, and a C for mitigation strategy.

Greenpeace also said that Google and Yahoo are both paying increasing attention to clean energy. A press release that accompanied the report noted:

Yahoo! and Google seem to understand the importance of a renewable energy supply. Yahoo! has sited near sources of renewable energy, and Google is directly purchasing clean power. Their models should be employed and improved upon by other cloud companies.

From a purely business perspective, none of this matters, of course. Yahoo, for example, may be among the greenest of cloud providers, but the company itself has been tanking.

But there's more to business than pure profits. Companies have societal responsibilities as well. It's clear from the Greenpeace report that the top cloud providers are falling short, even though Google and Yahoo are making serious attempts to clean up. Apple, by way of contrast, often touts its greenness, but fails miserably when it comes to environment and the cloud.

Here's hoping that the Greenpeace report is a wakeup call, and that the top cloud vendors take serious steps to power their data centers in a more environmentally friendly fashion in the future.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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