Previous analysis and industry focus has missed the point: access networks, not data centres, are the biggest threat to the sustainability of cloud services. This is because more people are accessing cloud services via wireless networks. These networks are inherently energy inefficient and a disproportionate contributor to cloud energy consumption.
Cloud computing has rapidly emerged as the driving trend in global Internet services. It is being promoted as a green technology that can significantly reduce energy consumption by centralising the computing power of organisations that manage large IT systems and devices. The substantial energy savings available to organisations moving their ICT services into the cloud has been the subject of several recent white papers.
Another trend that continues unabated is the take-up and use of personal wireless communications devices. These include mobile phones, wireless-enabled laptops, smartphones and tablets. In fact, tablets don’t accommodate a traditional cable connection; rather it is assumed a local or mobile wireless connection will be used to support all data transferred to and from the device. There is a significant emerging convergence between cloud computing and wireless communication, providing consumers with access to a vast array of cloud applications and services with the convenience of anywhere, anytime, any network functionality from the device of their choice. These are services many of us use every day like Google Apps, Office 365, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Facebook, Zoho cloud office suite, and many more.
To date, discussion about the energy efficiency of cloud services has focussed on data centres, the facilities used to store and serve the massive amounts of data underpinning these services. The substantial energy consumption of data centres is undeniable and has been the subject of recent high-profile reports including the Greenpeace report, HowClean is Your Cloud.
However, focussing 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.