Most of the time here at The Enterprise Cloud, we extol the benefits of the cloud. From time to time, though, it's important to bring up issues that may affect the future of the technology. One of these is the power drain caused by mobile connectivity to cloud resources.
This seems strange idea, because we often hear how using cloud computing can help reduce the power consumption of a company. Instead of using onsite supercomputers or leaving workstations on all the time, enterprises can use lower-powered machines locally and outsource the heavy lifting when required. But it's our continued adoption of smartphones that's causing problems.
Handsets might be getting better at reducing power consumption, but that only improves efficiency at the local level. The sheer scale of interconnectivity and cloud-based mobile interactions, however, is becoming unmanageable. According to Ars Technica, wireless networking infrastructure is draining over ten times more power than datacenters the world over. On top of that, it's responsible for over 90 percent of the world's cloud power usage.
This all came out of a joint study between AT&T's Bell Labs and the University of Melbourne, Australia. One of its goals was to counter Greenpeace's report, which attempted to paint datacenters as major power drains. In fact, though, wireless devices are the black holes of cloud-based power usage.
By 2015, this problem will have worsened, with wireless infrastructure requiring 43 terawatt-hours of electricity worldwide while producing as much as 30 megatons of CO2. This is the equivalent of several million cars.
Something needs to change. But what?
A simple solution that doesn't involve changing anything within the wireless industry is more clean energy. It doesn't really matter how much energy mobile infrastructure uses, assuming it's all produced by renewable sources. That's not likely to happen anytime soon, however, with new initiatives that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and usually only contribute a fraction of a percent toward meeting national and international power requirements.
One of the solutions suggested by a commenter on Ars Technica, though, draws attention to the difference in electricity usage between WiFi and 4G LTE. The latter is over 100 times less efficient, despite not delivering much higher performance. A simple solution, then, would be to expand WiFi networks, perhaps using consumer hardware in houses and homesteads to create a secondary, publicly available, high-speed network.
Of course, there would need to be some sort of privacy protection, perhaps via a segmented home network that's shared with the public while keeping a secondary portion for personal use.
Maybe a simple solution is something we can all do: Not go online so much. We do spend an awful lot of time procrastinating online and gobbling up endless reams of pointless but attention-grabbing content.
What do you folks think? Any good suggestions for cutting back on the world's cloud power usage?