Forget Data Centers, Wireless Cloud is Real Energy Hog, says Report

Insatiable demand for popular online applications on the go has created a “sustainability time bomb” for cloud services, according to researchers from Australia’s University of Melbourne.

The Power of Wireless Cloud, published by the university’s Centre for Energy Efficient Telecommunications, warns that industry has vastly underestimated energy consumption across the cloud ecosystem as more people access services using portable devices. The popularity of services like Google Apps, Office 365, Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Zoho cloud office suite, and many others delivered over wireless networks, is driving a massive surge in energy consumption, the report warns.

The energy use of cloud services accessed via wireless networks is expected to grow up to 460 percent between 2012 and 2015, the equivalent of 4.9 million new cars on the roads. The analysis shows that the infrastructure for wireless access networks, both WiFi and 4G LTE, will be responsible for 90 percent of that energy. Data centers, the focus of recent high-profile Greenpeace research and often held up as a major energy consumer, will account for only 9 percent.

According to CEET deputy director Dr. Kerry Hinton modern day wireless networks are just inherently inefficient. CEET is investigating ways to improve the way networks are managed for energy efficiency.

Hinton expects it is unlikely that people would trade away the mobile convenience of wireless services. Another solution, he says, might be to increase the way network resources are shared among users. More likely still, argues Hinton, is the need for a radical improvement in the efficiency of the technologies themselves and potentially a fundamental change to the way data is managed across the global network.

In March, wireless provider Sprint was awarded the 2012 North American Award for Green Excellence by Frost & Sullivan in recognition of carrying out more green initiatives than any competing US mobile operator. The analysis and consulting firm chose Sprint for its ambitious 10-year environmental goals, which include reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by an absolute 20 percent, lowering power consumption 15 percent and cutting paper use 40 percent by 2017.

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