Submitted: The Two Sides Team April 18, 2013
Wireless access networks use 10 times more energy than data centers, according to a recent white paper by the Melbourne-based Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET).
This conclusion is a rebuttal to an April 2012 Greenpeace report, How Clean Is Your Cloud, which highlighted the high power usage of data centres as a major problem for cloud sustainability. The CEET white paper, titled The Power of Wireless Cloud, says most people access the cloud via wireless networks, making these networks a disproportionate contributor to cloud energy consumption because of their inherent energy inefficiency.
Greenpeace reported that, as far back as 2007, the combined energy demand of the Internet and cloud was 623TWh annually, higher than the country with the fifth-largest energy demand in the world. Data centres consume an estimated 31GW globally, with an increase of 19% in 2012.
While the CEET recognises that the power consumption of data centres is an undeniable problem, it argues that data centres are one of many components involved in cloud computing, and are generally designed for energy efficiency. The cloud is frequently touted as a greener option because of the energy efficiency of these data centres.
For this reason, the CEET argues that focusing cloud efficiency debate on data centres alone obscures a more significant and complex problem and avoids the critical issue of inefficiency in the wireless access network.
Based on current trends, wireless networks will soon be the principal method of accessing the cloud, according to the CEET. While the wireless cloud used 9.2TWh in 2012, predictions show a projected increase of 460%, to 43TWh, by 2015.
This is an increase from six mega-tons of CO2 in 2012, to 30 mega-tons in 2015, or the equivalent of that generated by 4.9 million cars. Only 9% of this energy consumption is accounted for by data centres, while 90% is accounted for by local and mobile wireless access networks, says the CEET.
It adds that, because the convenience of wireless cloud is unlikely to be curbed, finding a solution to the energy inefficiency of the cloud requires a focus on making access technologies more efficient and potentially a reworking of how the industry manages data and designs the entire global network.
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