CIOs in the crosshairs: Cloudwashing reaches carbon proportions

Earlier this month a press release lobbed into my inbox from evangelising the environmental benefits of using public cloud computing. The idea has its merits, but the message bordered on demonising on-house infrastructure in a line that needs to carefully tread.

A March 2011 research study developed by WSP Environment & Energy and commissioned by has some compelling information about the carbon cost of computing.

In summary, the central premise of the media release was:

“Cloud computing services produce 95 percent less carbon, on average, compared with running equivalent software in on-premise application servers.”

Hesitant to run the release as “news” due to its subjective nature (will explain what I mean later), I can’t help but throw it out to CIOs in a slightly more realistic light. After all, you are the people who make decisions whether or not to adopt public Clouds.

[Note: I know the PR director for here quite well. I’m sure he’ll love me for writing this blog]

Moreover, against “so-called ‘private clouds’” (yes those are’s words) the research concluded multi-tenancy is 64 per cent more “carbon-efficient”.

There’s a “so-called private Cloud” now? CIOs, it’s time to scrap those “so-called private Cloud” projects now and move to public, multi-tenanted Clouds, just like

The propaganda goes on with “the community saved an estimated 170,900 tons of carbon in 2010”, which is the equivalent of taking 37,000 cars off the road, or avoiding the consumption of 19.5 million gallons of gas. See more at: where you can download a copy of the report.

How do CIOs live with themselves by not switching off their servers and bashing down’s door?

Having read Benioff’s book Behind the Cloud I’m surprised a man of his marketing prowess has pursued such an aggressive strategy against on-premise infrastructure, especially when has a strategy of branching out beyond CRM.

The sender even related the research to Australia’s impending carbon tax. Too bad reps don’t seem to care that a carbon tax will achieve little more than raise the cost of living with little or no effect on overall carbon emissions. Only a fundamental change in how power is generated can ultimately reduce carbon emissions.’s carbon-oriented Cloudwashing is highly subjective, not simply because it is a public Cloud provider itself (that stance is expected), but because it attempts to adopt some sort of “moral” high-ground by insinuating people “should” use the Cloud because it’s inherently “greener” without considering the obvious facts that Cloud services is not always appropriate.

The whole thing reminds me of Sun’s failed “HP Away” marketing campaign to lure HP’s Alpha Unix customers onto Solaris back in 2004.

The campaign failed because it had a negative attitude towards the customer. Its arrogant premise along the lines of “get off Alpha because you’ve made the wrong decision” and “you should be on SPARC-Solaris as it has a long-term roadmap”. Never mind the fact that Sun was bleeding cash at the time, it insisted a move from Alpha to SPARC was what the customer “should do”.

Even a HP rep said to me it made little sense for a customer to move from one proprietary platform to another (back then Solaris was proprietary) as the overwhelming trend was the move from Unix to Linux and Windows.

What carbon Cloudwashing ignores might mean well with its green Cloud dogma, but it can’t escape the harsh realities faced by CIOs who must ultimately decide the best and appropriate way to manage their organisation’s information.

Here’s what the marketroids conveniently forget to mention when Cloudwashing, but what the CIOs must deal with every day:

  • Legacy applications and processes may not afford a reasonable migration to the Cloud. This is something startups find difficult to comprehend, but it’s a fact.
  • While public Cloud services are well suited to business applications with reasonable data transfer volumes, they may be utterly impractical for large amounts of data like video, particularly across disparate, remote locations
  • Government regulations and legislation may restrict the transfer of local data across and international boundaries. That’s right, for some organisations it is illegal to use public Clouds for certain types of information
  • The level of data and business process portability among Cloud providers may be intolerable to CIOs looking to increase competition among software suppliers. I’ve interviewed one IT manager who admitted it was scary to think of how much business process IP his organisation had invested into for which the migration path from is non existent.
  • And so on…

Many companies can’t move to the Cloud and therefore should not be labelled an ignorant or reckless in light of astronomical energy savings being bandied around by “green” SaaS providers.

By trumpeting the green Cloud line SaaS companies like also set themselves up to be labelled as hypocritical. Obviously, as a commercial business, its aim is to grow the business as much as possible.

If, for example, a scenario is reached where millions of consumers and small businesses being using and other Cloud services in addition to a local client (PC or notebook).

For people who have never run a server (and there are millions) a move from the client to the Cloud actually increases their carbon footprint.

Cloud services don’t completely remove the need for client computers. Servers yes, but not desktops or network devices. Just look at all the people going berserk over the new generation of smartphones and tablet PCs. They are increasing their carbon footprint massively.

It’s not like is going to refuse this additional business even if the net carbon footprint was higher than it was when people were using pen and paper or spreadsheets.

There may be a time when is carbon neutral and doesn’t need to buy any more toxic and polluting servers nor build any more environmentally damaging data centres. But when that day arrives it will be the same for everyone, not just

All up, carbon-oriented Cloudwashing makes for interesting reading, but it should no way be taken as an indication of how “righteous” or “responsible” a company is for the reasons mentioned here.

Cloud computing is the way of the future, there’s no denying that, and in order to survive we must become environmentally sustainable, but bulldozing the two together into a corporate publicity campaign helps no one, not least the CIOs.

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

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