In business discussions around technology, it can be easy to get lost in the weeds. As IT departments and media try to forecast the next new wave of applications, the viability of one platform over another gets put into question, as does the hype cycle around emerging technologies. Society's tendency to focus on the micro trends puts the industry at risk of ignoring larger, more urgent technology issues. And at present, there is no technology discussion bigger than cloud computing.
The media has covered cloud debates to the point of saturation. Is cloud is hype or reality? How do you define cloud computing? What applications are best suited for the cloud? In truth, the question we should all be debating is what major challenges can cloud computing solve.
The answer is the IT energy crisis.
The word "crisis" may sound like a hyperbolic word, but it is very real. The explosion of online data is well documented with IDC estimating that the "digital universe" will reach 1.8 trillion gigabytes by the end of 2011. And, as of 2007, data centers represented almost 2% of the total electricity consumed in the U.S. The reality is that storing, managing and extracting value from that data consumes a great deal of energy. And, while this exponential increase in data and energy consumption is somewhat manageable now, at the pace it is evolving it soon won't be. An innovative solution (or set of solutions) is needed to adjust and respond to this trend.
Cloud computing offers a new approach.
Most would agree that cloud computing has been an evolution from previous models such as utility computing and the SaaS model. Key to cloud compute is design intended to provide immediate scalability for businesses of all sizes in an extremely flexible manner. The key advantages that have propelled the cloud have primarily been flexibility, simplicity and cost. But, in the last few years, as cloud computing has grown in prominence, a few other forces have been at play in IT.
First, as the economic downtown shook the very foundations of the IT market, understanding how to get more out of your investments became paramount. Second, as organizations strived to reduce cost and maximize resources, they were faced with increased compute demands and rising energy costs, which is counterintuitive to solving the cost/resources issue. The two forces (reducing cost while managing increased compute demands) are at odds with each other.
In response to the concerns over rising IT energy consumption, many organizations, including the federal government, created their own initiatives to try and deal with the spiraling power problem. The government went on record saying they aimed to decrease data center energy costs by 10-15 percent. Also, specific local authorities, including NYSERDA in NY State offered financial incentives as great as $10 million to reduce data center energy consumption.
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So while cloud has been gaining steam with the early adopter crowd for being robust and user-friendly, enterprises, SMBs and public sector organizations have all been starving for a solution that can cut energy costs in a meaningful way. The two were destined to meet.
If only it were as simple as it sounds. In theory, porting over the compute workloads from local data centers to the cloud just passes on the energy costs from many locations to few. The energy crisis hasn't been solved, it's just been consolidated. This exact factor is why energy efficiency is the single largest issue associated with cloud computing and makes it imperative that cloud providers implement extremely energy efficient server solutions. This protects the viability of IT not only today, but in the future as well.