On Monday Steve Jobs announced Apple's latest offering, "the new way to store and access your content" no less. The company's new service, iCloud, may be an ambitious step forward for Apple in computing terms, but look closer and you'll find that it's tarnished by that Victorian-era power supply (and source of global warming pollution!) we know too well -- coal.
Accessing data anywhere on any device still needs those clouds to touch the ground somewhere. In Apple's case that's a US$1 billion new datacenter in North Carolina. All those servers require huge amounts of power - as our recent "How Dirty is your Data?" report revealed that Apple's new datacenter could use as much power as 250,000 EU homes. In North Carolina that power comes from burning dirty coal and dangerous nuclear power.
A handful of bloggers noted that Job's claimed its "as eco-friendly as you can make a modern data center,". That was referring to the fact that the datacenter is likely energy efficient, but Steve couldn't be more wrong if he really thinks an efficient datacenter that runs on coal could ever be "eco-friendly". Google runs efficient datacenters and is investing in renewable energy to power them, Yahoo! sites its datacentres next to renewable energy sources.
Blogger Peter Judge took a bit of a closer look at Apple's claim, concluding, "Apple should certainly account for its energy choices and its carbon footprint.". Local website WCNC takes a closer look, at the reality of where iCloud is based "This is not iHeaven. This is Maiden." The local power company, Duke Energy is clearly overjoyed at the arrival of huge new customers like Apple and Facebook:
Duke Energy, for one, welcomes our new Apple overlords. Executives gushed about it in a release shortly after the company announced it was coming to Catawba County. “The great thing about a data center is that they run full‐out, 24‐7, with no shifts and no seasonality," said Clark Gillespy, vice president of Economic Development, Business Development and Territorial Strategies for Duke Energy Carolinas. "It's the type of customer where the meter spins and spins at an exponential pace. It may be the most ideal customer we could have."
That's millions of dollars Apple alone will be spending with a company that's building new polluting coal power capacity in North Carolina to serve these new customers. Hardly what I'd call 'eco-friendly'.
Over on CIO Australia, takes an inside view on the issue to explain why efficiency alone is not the answer, from the perspective of the people in companies who make datacenter decisions, the Chief Information Officer, and concludes:
But the next time a Cloud provider trumpets its Green credentials, ask about its investment in renewable energy sources. And watch the reaction.
For an explanation of how big internet companies can make those renewable energy investments check out the author of the Dirty Data report, Gary Cook explaining the issue: