A possible green data center metric, carbon footprint of a Cloud VM

I was at a student panel discussion with Seattle Pacific University's M.A. for Social and Sustainable Management program. Rob Greenwood and I were discussing Environmental topics. Rob would discuss things at a broad industry, and I would discuss specifics within the data center industry and technology companies.

Part of what Rob expressed which aligns with things I observe as well is that many companies have difficulty showing the business value of sustainable efforts. In data centers with cost of power and cooling systems, improving PUE is a standard. Carbon footprint reporting is also gaining momentum. So the data center industry is different than the overall industry in that it is clearer when the efficiency pays off.

Examples are:

Google has been carbon neutral for 6 years.

Google has been carbon neutral for six years. This means that all of the work we do has a total carbon footprint of zero. This includes serving 100 billion search queries and 6 billion hours of YouTube videos a month, supporting 750 million Chrome users and delivering Google Maps in 194 countries. It also includes efforts such as developing self-driving cars and launching Wi-Fi-enabled balloons into the atmosphere.

Apple has one of the largest solar installations at its data center. And, Greenpeace has friended Facebook for its environmental efforts.

So how about this for a game changer. If users wanted more transparency from Cloud providers and required to know the power and carbon impact of a VM? It is not the standard now. This is easy for Google to say the carbon impact. It is zero. Currently no cloud provider makes this disclosure as they don’t want users to know how much power a VM uses. Why? Let’s say you are in AWS with a small VM. What would you think if your VM power use was 20 watts? 1/12 of a 240 watt server environment. Dual processor 6 core AMD with 1 VM per core. But, are some actually putting 2 VMs per core, and the power may be 10 watts per VM. You can see why no cloud provider wants to tell you how much power the VM uses.