UC3 News — 06 February 2014

Over the past decade, our use of the Internet has increased dramatically. Once used just for information, the Internet is now the primary source of entertainment. While most still use it to look up information, we also use the Internet to watch the latest movies and television shows through Netflix, we play games online through Steam, XBox Live, and PlayStation Network, and we stream music through Pandora and Spotify. Because of this, many companies have resorted to storing almost all of their information in the cloud. The biggest users of the cloud are exactly the companies you might expect: Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Apple. But what exactly are they doing to clean up the cloud?


They’re Using Renewable Energy

The statistics don’t lie: By 2020, there’s going to be an estimated 50-fold increase in the amount of information we access digitally. Because these data centers need to be up constantly, they use a tremendous amount of energy. Some data centers even consume the equivalent energy use of 180,000 homes!

Three companies have started to take a stand against the massive amount of data consumed. Google and Yahoo are the first companies to take a stand and use renewable energy as they expand their reach via the cloud. Facebook, now with more than 700 million users, has also realized the importance of using renewable energy, and their data center in Sweden is powered only by renewable energy.

On the other hand, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple are all using “dirty energy“, which is essentially electrical pollution. They have no plans to switch to renewable energy anytime soon, and are all expanding with complete disregard to electricity usage. In fact, they market the cloud as “green“, which is incorrect. It may be a “green” concept for individual consumers, but that impact is just transferred over to the corporations.

Of the largest tech based companies, Dell, Yahoo, and Facebook have the highest energy index, while Apple, Amazon, Oracle, and Salesforce have the lowest.

They’re Strategically Placing Their Data Centers

When it comes to installing data centers, location matters. For companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon, they’re not worried about where they expand to. For companies like Google and Yahoo, however, they take the availability of renewable energy into account. In addition, some companies are also looking at “free cooling” as an important factor. This technique allows the outside air to cool off the data center instead of wasting more energy on energy-intensive chillers.

The projected prevalence of renewable energy makes Sweden and Germany attractive to certain companies, like Facebook, Spotify, AT&T and IBM. Meanwhile, Microsoft is in the Netherlands, which has very little renewable energy.

In order to make a quick dollar, many companies are utilizing low-cost dirty energy, which increases the demand for coal, as well as the associated pollution.

Chicago has one of the top five largest data center markets in North America, even though renewable energy use is less than ten percent of all energy used in Illinois. As more companies move to Chicago, this will only get worse as more choose to use the low-cost option. Should Microsoft start a push for renewable energy use, they could make it a trend in the area, with the majority of companies switching to either renewable energy or wind power.

As most people browse the net, they most likely don’t take into account just how much data their both sending and receiving to the cloud. However, the energy is transferred to a data center, which may or may not be using renewable energy. As we continue to utilize the Internet in our day to day lives, think of the data centers that are processing this information and how they’re powered. Do you want to financially support a company that doesn’t care about the earth and utilizes dirty energy, or would you rather support a company that’s using innovative techniques to clean up the air and create a better future? The next time you have the opportunity, support the company that cares about the world that we all share.

By Miles Young

Miles is a freelance writer, tech geek and world traveler. He’s currently interested in mobile devices and satellite Internet technology. Follow him @MrMilesYoung on Twitter.

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