Green computing

Our datacentres are energy efficient and green too, says AWS

Archana Venkatraman

Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud provider with a significant datacentre footprint, runs its facilities with energy efficiency in mind, according to vice-president Stephen Schmidt, despite environmental campaign group Greenpeace calling it a “dirty energy” player.

According to Greenpeace, Amazon is “stuck in dirty energy past”

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and is focusing purely on improvements in efficiency and has taken “few or no steps to switch to renewable sources of energy”.

“Our datacentres are energy-efficient,” Schmidt told Computer Weekly at the AWS London Summit on 30 April. “Large cloud providers like us that are extremely low margin, high volume providers, have to run at very high utilisation rates to be successful. The second thing is we design our facilities in such a way that they use the minimum amount of energy necessary. We reduce energy consumption in our datacentres. 

"We are much better at this than just about every other company out there. Why are we doing that? Because it reduces cost which also means a reduction in energy consumption."

But Greenpeace has blamed AWS for not caring enough about the source of the energy it uses to power its facilities. According to Greenpeace, AWS primarily uses coal – a cheap but environmentally questionable option - as its main source of energy. 

AWS’s estimated use of green energy is 15%, a Greenpeace report said. This compares to 34% green energy used by Google to run its IT.

Greenpeace billed Amazon as the “least transparent of any company we evaluated” in terms of its energy consumption in its IT facilities.

“There is a lot of IP [intellectual property] in how we run our facilities and hence we don’t talk about it, but our datacentres are powered by green energy sources,” Schmidt said.

“There are many notable datacentre operators that use solar power in their facilities. But solar energy can be used at restrictive times and in restrictive areas. So how do they power their datacentres when solar energy isn’t available?

“Our Oregon facility, one of our fastest growing datacentres, is hydro-powered,” Schmidt added. Amazon’s Oregon datacentre is on the banks of the Columbia River and uses cheap, but clean, hydro electricity generated from dams along the river basin. 

But much of its datacentre infrastructure is in Virginia – home to a dirty energy grid.

Schmidt argued that cloud computing is an inherently more efficient and environmentally-friendly way of computing than using on-premise datacentres, thereby offsetting the overall carbon footprint of IT.

AWS makes it possible for hundreds of thousands of organisations to consolidate their datacentre use into much smaller combined datacentre footprints in the AWS cloud, resulting in much higher utilisation rates and eliminating the waste that occurs when datacentres don't operate near their capacity, according to the public cloud provider.

“Our cloud approach enables a combined smaller carbon footprint that significantly reduces overall consumption,” he said.