The Growing Energy Demands Of Living Your Life In The Cloud

This post originally appeared in Forbes on October 22nd, 2012

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You recycle, drive a hybrid, and run your major appliances during off-peak hours. You are doing all you can to help reduce your energy consumption, right? Maybe not.

Have you considered how your lifestyle is driving up power use in the cloud? Personal energy use is no longer reflected solely in utility bills. A rapidly growing fraction of the average person’s day now involves an online component, and what we’ve come to think of as personally essential apps and services are driving up the power requirements for a global network of Web portals and online information hosting and delivery services.

Think about how different our at-home lives were before the digital revolution. An alarm clock – not a smart phone – buzzed us awake. We read newspapers and watched over-the-air broadcast television. We went to the shopping mall, and called the airlines to book travel. Our calendars hung on the wall next to the phone, and Post-It notes, time-manager notebooks, and PDAs were our essential life tools.

Click on the present day. Dad turns on the television to play back a pre-recorded game. He checks his fantasy football stats on his smart phone while Mom uses her iPad to Facebook a relative on the other side of the country. The kids are Googling to research homework assignments, and dinner is courtesy of the family’s favorite recipe app. After dinner, e-mail is checked, and IMs go out to coworkers about tomorrow’s meeting agenda. One teenager is in a virtual multiplayer online game world with a few schoolmates, and another is streaming a favorite show from an entertainment site.

The point is that we are living in a connected world, and we are tapping into cloud-based services more than ever before. And unless you are a technology holdout, you now live in an Internet-centric world where you use multiple smart devices and enjoy instant access to information. And besides the obvious accesses to online resources, there are a growing number of cloud accesses that might surprise you. When you talk to Siri on your iPhone, for example, you are using the extensive data centers behind the voice recognition system. Similarly, your navigation and location-based services are tied to cloud services hosted on servers around the globe.

Connectivity and online services are much more than just conveniences or entertainment sources. Besides serving up music, movies and information about our favorite sports or entertainment stars, the online world has improved the delivery of services that are vital to our everyday lives. Community police departments send out automated alerts from their central data centers. Patient health information is managed within online health services to help hospitals and treatment centers improve medical outcomes. And emergency response teams and relief agencies post essential information on their web sites, to update residents hit by natural disasters like hurricane Sandy.

So, we not only enjoy convenient access to information and services, we have become dependent on it. Digital experiences are improving the quality of our lives. And that brings us back to the question of energy. What price are we all going to pay for these conveniences and safety services if cloud applications keep escalating energy consumption?

Each online activity has an energy price tag in the cloud. Behind every online experience are global networks and data centers. It is currently estimated that data centers account for consumption of at least 1.5 percent of all of the world’s available energy . This statistic should raise our concern, and in fact, this power draw has doubled in the last five years and continues to grow  about 20 percent annually in part because of the growing popularity and variety of online apps and services.

Just how popular are online services? How fast is the cloud driving up energy consumption? The most popular sites and services are publicizing amazing growth in their user bases and site activity. Amazon reports that it now sells more e-books than hard copies. Tablet sales expanded 98 percent last year; there are now more than 1 million online apps. A growing number of subscribers are cancelling traditional TV services, as online video streaming increases. And the user bases for music and video streaming should reach the one billion mark within the next three to five years along with total mobile devices projected to reach eight billion by 2016 .

The digital world is here to stay, and somehow the data centers are going to have to keep up. Fortunately, the power challenge is not new to technology providers who have experienced the result of higher consumption and grid utilization. High demand and aging delivery grids have forced some utility companies to restrict the amount of power delivered to a data center. Other data center operators are seeing energy prices increase and/or spike as demand grows, which strains operational budgets. Recognizing that these trends are here to stay, IT equipment manufacturers are innovating a new generation of data center, software tools, and networking products that are more energy-efficient than predecessors.

A data center full of energy-efficient servers can still waste power, however, if these servers are always powered up, but under-utilized. Power efficiency and optimization calls for an intelligent combination of the automated monitoring of power conditions and the ability to adjust power, temperatures, computer performance and workloads on the fly.

The trends and industry needs mentioned above are driving the evolution of holistic data center power management solutions. The approaches and implementations vary, but industry leaders that are emerging, and documented user results are helping to advance the most promising methodologies and products for data center energy efficiencies.

With the potential for rapid returns on investments, the world’s largest data centers are leading a wave of energy management best practices adoption. They are curbing run-away energy with a combination of micro-level controls (for individual servers, power distribution units, air-flow controllers, and cooling units) as well as macro-level controls and policies (for racks of servers, rows of racks, and entire data centers).

While you might say that technology got us into this situation, it is equally true that technology is helping us to mitigate this energy challenge. As long as energy is a precious resource, data center managers will continue looking for ways to improve conservation. The business case encourages them to do the right thing.

So go ahead and immerse yourself in the digital world. Guilt free. Thanks to data center managers who are seeking improved energy efficiency on your behalf, your power usage in the cloud is being managed responsibly.

Jeff Klaus is the director of Intel Data Center manager (DCM). Jeff leads a global team that designs, builds, sells, and supports Intel® DCM.

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Jeff Klaus

About Jeff Klaus

General Manager of Data Center Solutions at Intel. Internationally respected software executive with experience building data center software licensing, API management and software solution businesses. Jeff has extensive experience building software engineering, product development, marketing, licensing and deployment through a variety of industry verticals globally. Jeff has experience distributing solutions to the top 10 global hardware OEMs, leading global software solution providers and direct to the largest telco and Internet Portal Data Centers around the world. He has built global sales and distribution teams and has experience orchestrating solution selling through indirect solution partners in addition to direct GTM strategies. Jeff is a graduate of Boston College, and also holds an MBA from Boston University.