Outsourcing clouds the green issue: Storage Bin 2.0

If you think shipping everything offsite is the best way to go green, you should think again.

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Think shipping everything offsite is a good way to go green? Think again.

according to research from Enterprise Strategy Group, folks leveraging cloud-based options are twice as likely to work at companies with green initiatives than at companies without any storage-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings in place. Why is that, you ask? I have several theories.

The so-called cloud represents the fastest way for any firm to get onboard with the "green IT" movement. What could be greener than getting rid of your power-hungry, cooling-crazed, constantly expanding infrastructure?

What you likely won't hear is that by doing this you're in danger of pushing your green responsibility onto those providing the services you use. That's because companies don't always look for reality; they look for an ability to follow a mandate. If someone tells you to cut data center power costs by 50% in the next two years, it's only natural that you might look to solve the problem in the same way IT has historically looked to solve many such issues: by pushing the responsibility onto others.

Outsourcing isn't new, whether it's writing code or building shiny toys. Sometimes we do it because it's cheaper, faster or whatever; but many times it's so we can blame someone else if things go wrong. Many firms that outsourced manufacturing overseas did so for sound business reasons such as cheaper labor and international distribution sites. But plenty of them were so intent on meeting their mandate they didn't stop to consider that some outsourcers might be using illegal (or at least immoral) child labor--until overseas labor became a PR issue. Then they abruptly put a code-of-conduct doctrine in place for their suppliers to (hopefully) prevent such practices in the future.

I don't expect companies offering cloud infrastructure services to employ 12-year-olds working 20-hour shifts, but other things could go wrong when tying outsourcing to green initiatives. If you're using the cloud to become "green" fast, you should know that while there's a good chance your provider is better at squeezing the green out of its operations than you might be, it's not guaranteed. Your motivation might be to save your company power and cooling expenses, but your provider's model could use more power and cooling to house your infrastructure and data than if you kept it yourself.

Perhaps a better example has to do with capacity in the cloud. We solve our own capacity problems by letting others take on the load. Everything is great until they go down for a day and you can't get to anything you've given them. They'll respond by saying "Sorry, but the fine print says that might happen" and there isn't too much you can do about it. So while you may have solved your capacity issue (well, until this problem showed up), you didn't consider all of the angles: What if they go down? What realistic assurances do I have that my data isn't being viewed/ used by someone else? Even things like basic privacy assumptions should be questioned. For example, when you use a free email (or any other service) and store sensitive data on that firm's infrastructure, are they selling or reading or moving information about you? Where's the data stored? How is it protected? Do they have their own green initiatives?

Vendors aren't benevolent; sometimes they give you something because they can monetize it in other ways. And that's what you need to check out before taking the seemingly easy route of passing the buck.

This was first published in November 2008

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