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Is the Cloud Driving Data Center Power Consumption?

By: Ernest Sampera on April 16, 2019

Cloud computing, in all its varied forms, has become an indispensable aspect of modern IT infrastructure. Today’s organizations don’t just rely on cloud services for their data storage and backup needs. Many of them depend on cloud computing power to deliver their core services. Given these developments, it’s worth taking a look at how the demands of the cloud are driving data center power consumption statistics.

Dominance of the Cloud

There’s no question that many organizations are turning to the cloud for their computing and data needs. Cisco estimates that by 2021, an incredible 94 percent of workloads and computing tasks will be processing in cloud environments. Where companies once relied heavily upon on-premises servers and private data centers, these solutions are already being phased out in favor of more versatile cloud computing services. Colocation and virtualization provide easier access to cloud computing power than ever before, leading many organizations to make the transition in order to save costs, scale capacity, and increase flexibility.

Although it’s easy to think of the cloud as something that exists completely in the virtual world, the computing infrastructure that makes it possible is very real. Servers, storage drives, and cooling systems are all essential to providing cloud services of all kinds. That physical infrastructure also has significant energy demands, which has made the demand for more cloud computing a key factor in driving data center power consumption.

Data Center Power Consumption

On a global scale, data centers utilize about 416 terawatts of electricity each year, which is about three percent of all electricity generated in the world. With more facilities being built each year, those power demands are certain to go up. Major cloud service providers, such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, continue to build massive hyperscale facilities in the US and elsewhere to increase their cloud computing power.

Global data center traffic is expected to increase three times within five years, and overall growth protections put global IP traffic at a 127-fold increase between 2005 and 2021. Those traffic demands will continue to drive data center growth, resulting in more facilities being built wherever the power and transportation infrastructure exist to support them. With more companies leveraging internet of things (IoT) devices to meet customer needs, latency requirements will increasingly push them to edge data centers situated closer to end users in emerging markets.

In the grand scheme of things, more data centers means more power consumption. As the demands of cloud infrastructure intensify and service providers shift to a cloud-based delivery model, more facilities running power-intensive high-density servers will be necessary to accommodate those needs.

More Power With More Efficiency

It’s important to keep data center growth trends in perspective. Although more facilities are being built and overall power consumption is increasing, modern cloud computing data centers are far more energy efficient than the private, enterprise-level facilities of years past. Companies building their own data centers often rank energy efficiency low on their priority list and are often completely unaware of the facility’s PUE (power usage effectiveness).

Much of these costs come from a combination of inefficient cooling and server workloads. Whether they’re failing to follow cooling best practices like hot aisle/cold aisle containment or running servers at less than 50 percent of their potential workload capacity, badly designed and poorly managed data centers often consume far more energy than they should. These smaller facilities consume as much as 60 percent of all energy usage in 2020 despite the fact they represent far less than 60 percent of data traffic and computing needs.

According to Gartner research, 80 percent of enterprises will migrate away from on-premises facilities by 2025 in favor of cloud, colocation, or virtualization alternatives. While these companies’ computing needs may continue to drive up power demands in the aggregate, shifting their operations to more energy efficient cloud computing data centers will go a long way toward minimizing the impact of those demands. To fully appreciate the impact of energy efficiency practices, consider that US data center power usage increased by only four percent between 2010 and 2014 despite growing 24 percent over the previous five years. Data center sustainability is a clear goal when it comes to building new facilities.

So while it may be true that the cloud is driving data center power consumption, it’s doing so in ways that will lead to more efficient energy usage. Although a hyperscale facility packed with high-density server deployments providing virtualization services and machine learning analytics may require a lot of power, it incorporates enough efficiency best practices to make it use far less power than a comparable number of enterprise data centers. To put it another way, the cloud isn’t simply driving data center power consumption; it’s driving smarter data center power consumption.

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