Green Research Computing

Green Cloud Computing

A new economy is emerging where the environmental impact of any action will have an associated cost. Industries with a large environmental footprint are already being targeted whereas information technology (IT) systems have not yet attracted same attention. However, this is not likely to continue as IT has the same CO2 footprint as the airline industry (2-3%). The community is taking steps but it is expected that the electrical demand for IT uses will triple over the coming decade putting even greater pressure on the industry to find innovative solutions.

We believe that cloud/grid technologies using existing facilities are a solution for green research computing. Our team is spearheading an effort to build a distributed cloud for research applications as it has many benefits in addition to addressing environmental aspects. Clouds allow researchers to access resources on demand and deploy complex application software on distributed facilities without imposing complicated requirements on remote system administrators.

Our vision of a green cloud is one that consists of individual cloud sites that are powered in a variety of ways. A computing centre at a Canadian university is powered off the provincial grids; typically a mixture of dirty (coal or gas) and clean (hydro or nuclear or wind). Some centres are starting to consider a hybrid system involving locally installed solar panels or wind turbines that fail over to the utility grid if the sun sets or the wind stops. There is discussion in British Columbia of building a computing centre near a hydro generating station that would benefit from the clean and very reliable power but also it would minimize transmission losses.