Google’s secret weapon against Amazon

by Brian Johnson

March 27, 2014

Turbines spin in the 300MW Cedar Creek Wind Energy Project With 274 turbines, Cedar Creek is located in a 13,000ha (32,000-acre) site about 13km (8 miles) east of Grover in north-central Weld County, Colorado. It is one of the largest single wind-power facilities in the United States Cedar Creek will help Colorado achieve its goal of 20% renewable energy by 2020. Cedar Creek Wind Energy LLC owns the plant, which is a joint venture between Babcock & Brown (67%) and BP Alternative Energy (33%). The capital investment was more than $480m.

© Greenpeace / Robert Meyers

Googles announcement on Tuesday that it would be providing new cloud computing services at discounted prices shows how hot the war over cloud business is about to become.

Googles chief opponent in that war is Amazon Web Services, a division of Amazon which has to date captured much of the cloud market, and hosts the data for many of the internets most popular sites and services.

Like clockwork, Amazon responded on Wednesday with its own slashed prices. The war for the cloud is on.

As the New York Times reported:

Googles cloud computing business has figured out how its going to come at Amazon Web Services: lower and simpler prices, predictable services and software innovation.

Thats probably all true. But Google also has a secret weapon up its sleeve: Its cloud is far greener than Amazons.

Google is one of six internet companies which have committed to powering their data centers with 100% renewable energy. The company has made solid progress toward that goal. Google currently reports that 34% of its massive operations use clean energy. It has bought wind energy for several of its data centers, and used its clout to expand the amount of clean energy available to it.

Late last year in North Carolina, for example, Google, Facebook, and Apple teamed up to convince local utility Duke Energy to provide more renewable energy options. Like Google, Facebook and Apple have committed to 100% clean clouds.

Amazon Web Services, on the other hand, is notoriously tight-lipped about the type of energy it uses to power its data centers. That could become a problem for some of its customers with environmental goals and sustainability policies. Companies with large data needs may be using significant amounts of electricity via their cloud operations. Amazons opacity will make it difficult for it to even report that data, no less start to make that footprint greener. And despite the increasing momentum for a green internet, there is little to suggest AWS is doing anything at all to power its data centers with clean energy like solar and wind.

AWSs attachment to old, polluting energy affects not only its own image and environmental footprint, but the images and footprints of its biggest-name clients. Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify and Netflix all currently rent cloud space from Amazon Web Services. Those companies may not want to grow dirtier with Amazon.

Now, cloud customers may soon have a cleaner option in Google.

Of course, AWS does not need to risk losing its most prized customers to Google or anyone else. Amazon’s cloud behemoth can change its attitude and fully commit to renewable energy, just as Google, Apple, and Facebook have done. But if AWS stays on its current trajectory, it may find that some of its customers would rather switch to a cloud company that knows how to innovate not just with the services it offers, but the energy it uses.

Brian Johnson

By Brian Johnson

Brian is a campaigner with Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Team. Follow him @BFWJohnson.

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