If you work in information technology or telecommunications, or even if you own a PC, Mac, or iPhone, you should be aware of the term cloud computing. Gartner, a leading IT research and advisory company, defines cloud computing as “a style of computing in which massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided as a service using Internet technologies to multiple external customers”.
Cloud Computing is not a specific technology as it is an approach by which organisations can harness server power and virtualisation technologies that combine these resources in a pool and divide single servers into virtual machines that can be called up at will.
The most famous provider of cloud computing services is Amazon, which leverages its own business infrastructure to provide outside customers with access to their own servers on demand. A good example of the success of cloud computing is during Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. The buzz surrounding the acquisition created such a demand on Instagram’s resources that the only way that Instagram was able to keep up with this increased demand was to utilise Amazon’s web services, or their cloud.
If cloud computing is an approach, then what services can be derived from the cloud? As if we did not have enough acronyms to keep track of in IT and telecommunications, The Open Group, an industry consortium, has given us a few new ones.
These additional acronyms fall under the main grouping of XaaS (pronounced as ZAAS), or “Everything as a Service”. XaaS is any service that can call up reusable, fine-grained software components across a virtualised cloud network. Recent estimates put the value of XaaS at US$40 billion by the year 2015. Under XaaS, we have Software as a Service (SaaS), Storage as a Service (SaaS), Security as a Service (SECaaS), Database as a Service (DaaS), Monitoring/Management as a Service (MaaS), Backup as a Service (BaaS), Desktop as a Service (DaaS), and Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS).
The main driving force for XaaS is cost savings. Why should organisations invest in expensive software, licensing and servers that may sit idle for most of the time, sucking up power, cooling, rack space, and support resources?
In today’s push to go green, is this approach good for the environment? The New York Times recently published an investigative series on how the physical infrastructure to support cloud computing is affecting the environment. The first instalment offered up some scary statistics about energy waste. But some say that the story unfairly depicts an Internet industry that has been making major strides in energy savings.
Taking into account a year’s worth of reporting and research, the Times’ Jim Glanz concluded that most data centres are wasting huge amounts of energy, which puts the IT industry “at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.” “Online companies, including cloud computing services providers, typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand,” the story said. “
As a result, data centres can waste 90 per cent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.” A couple more startling statistics from the story: “Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates that industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centres in the United States account for one quarter to one third of that load, the estimates show.” And this quote, while from an unnamed source, is still powerful: “
’This is an industry dirty secret, and no one wants to be the first to say mea culpa,’ said a senior industry executive who asked not to be indentified to protect his company’s reputation. ‘If we were a manufacturing industry, we’d be out of business straightaway.’”
The key to balancing the green with the benefits of cloud computing is conservation. Major companies compete to get the lowest power usage effectiveness rating in their newest data centres, which compares how much total electricity a data centre imports to get a unit of computing done. Older enterprise data centres have a PUE of 1.9 to 2.0; which means that only half the power consumed is devoted to computing.
The extra power is needed for heating or cooling, lights, and auxiliary systems, with cooling being the biggest culprit. Instead of that average 2.0 PUE, advanced data centres get ratings such as 1.22 or 1.16, achieved on Google’s last two publicly announced data centres. Yahoo operates a data centre in Lockport, NY, with a PUE of 1.07, while Facebook’s Prineville, Oregon data centre has a 1.06 rating. But doing something about electricity gluttony in older data centres can be difficult.
“Operating for efficiency and failing will get you yelled at. Operating for availability and failing will get you fired,” summed up Steve Hassell, president of the Avocent business unit of Emerson Network Power, which specialises in producing power management devices.
Locally, TeleCayman Ltd. maintains a 2,000 square foot data centre in George Town. The data centre is housed in a Category 5 hurricane proof, hardened building. It is located on the fourth floor, well above flood zone, within TeleCayman’s central office. It is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by TeleCayman’s network operation centre. TeleCayman offers a fully redundant power system, delivered with a continuous 24-hour 110v single phase, 20-Ampere service.
Uninterrupted power supply is delivered through dual diesel generators to provide back-up power for the facility. This ensures that primary or back-up servers are always on, and always available. TeleCayman Ltd. has been able to achieve reduced PUE by tackling the cooling requirements, installing secondary air conditioning systems to defray the costs of in-building systems, shutting off lights and investing in state of the art auxiliary systems. The overall cost savings are passed back to the customer, many of which are XaaS providers, who pass the savings back to their customers.
The same initiative is replicated by TeleCayman’s sister company, TeleBermuda International, at its 8000 square foot data centre facility located in Bermuda. “Balancing the unique demands of our customers, many of whom operate in the cloud computing space, with the green initiatives to protect and save the environment, are our goals,” stated Chris Haydon, director of business development for Javelin Connections Ltd, the Bermuda-based holding company for both TeleCayman Ltd and TeleBermuda International.
“This balance sets us apart from other industry players, and helps us deliver quality and cost savings to our customers, which is good for them, and good for the environment.”