Powering The Cloud
A lot of people are talking about "the cloud" these days. To us IT geeks discussing the cloud is just like talking to a neighbour about the weather. To the layperson however, the cloud is another one of those techy things that doesn’t really affect them.
A quick search online doesn’t really help either, giving us the handy description "Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product", thanks for that Wikipedia...
Essentially instead of having a program like Microsoft Word running on your computer, you can use a version that sits online in a cloud. So instead of losing everything if your PC goes pop, it’s available on a thousand other machines ready to pick up where you left off.
So, the application of the cloud means that you don’t need a huge hulking beast of a machine at home any more. It means you can do all the powerful computing remotely, with nothing more than a tablet or netbook, and it means any work which previously required you to sit at a desk hammering out documents, programs or spread sheets, can now be done outside, in the sunshine!
In order to achieve this means a LOT of computing power though. In hardware terms "the cloud" is basically a mass network of computers all linked together in data centres around the world. Of course, these massive data centres require a vast amount of power, and unfortunately this power still mostly comes from non-renewable sources.
Greenpeace produced a report back in April 2011 entitled How Dirty is your Data? detailing which of the major corporations (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft etc.) were the most transparent with their renewable energy policies and which of them had committed to a substantial sustainable energy plan. Some of them are still getting as much as half of their energy requirements from coal.
Of course, there are initiatives underway and each of the aforementioned have been making concerted efforts to devote a lot more time and money into developing renewable solutions. Indeed, some of them are making giant steps already, as you can see from movements like Facebook: Unfriend Coal. Hopefully, they’ll sort it all out before the cloud gets too big...
And if you’re still not sure of the scale of these things; if the cloud was a country, back in 2007 it would have been the fifth largest energy consumer in the world. And it’s been growing ever since.