It’s time to do something about dirty clouds

Especially in these Corona days, we are all quite happy that we can do everything online. It’s all been doable by a global shift to create online services for everything, which we happily call The Cloud. 

What often goes unnoticed, is that these services run on real computers, take up real space, and use real energy. Lots of energy. All of this energy is turned into heat, which is disposed of and typically means using additional energy to cool off all of the servers. At the same time, elsewhere on the grid, we use primary energy to generate heat for our house, our shower, the office, a pool, the gym, and everything else. 

Chimney dirty smoke
Image of dirty chimney. Source:

Simply put: the cloud is built on data centers and data centers have a massive carbon footprint. We need a sustainable alternative. I’m one of four guys on a journey in which we feel we can build a great company, protect the environment, and have fun doing it by providing that alternative.

At Leafcloud we’re building a distributed cloud platform, housed at locations where the excess heat the servers produce is reused immediately. This allows us to use energy up to 90% more efficiently than regular cloud providers and offer a truly green option.

The problems we’re trying to solve 

Wasting Energy

Data centers account for roughly 1% of all electricity used globally. The Dutch Datacenter Association says it’s closer to 3% in the Netherlands. To put that into perspective: 3% is almost as much electricity as the entire city of Amsterdam uses, except for the 10% used by data centers themselves.

And it’s growing. In fact, compute usage is growing exponentially. Over the past few years, two factors have managed to delay this translating into a spike in energy usage. First, moving compute in data centers to multi-tenant cloud providers, which allows for more efficient usage of the available computers and cooling. And second, chips were getting exponentially more efficient.

These methods have run their course. Most services already run in the cloud and both AMD and Intel now use increasingly more power. Data center energy usage is set to rise sharply, what’s needed are innovations in power-saving.

Having a Green Option

Many of us now try to buy the energy-saving lamp, rent the electric car, and favor the store where they use less packaging. In other words: we choose products with a smaller footprint and we influence our vendors to do the same.

But when it comes to services online you’ll notice there isn’t much to choose from. No online service claims to be more environmentally friendly than the other. Why is that? It makes sense once you understand that the online services rely on data centers or cloud infrastructure providers, who in turn offer virtually no green options. Many may buy green energy, and there is some improvement in increased cooling efficiency and higher per-machine utilization, but this is largely invisible to the service providers, resulting in the lack of a green alternative available to cloud customers.

Solving both these problems at once

🤔. What if we move these servers to places where the heat can be re-used? 🌱 And what if we connect all the servers together using fiber-optic networks, to form one big and distributed infrastructure 🕸. Can we then offer capacity on this infrastructure to anyone interested in having a truly green option?

That’s exactly what we’re doing! Consider the following diagram:

On the left side of our business, we offer a green, sustainable cloud infrastructure as a service. Customers can run generic workloads for web application hosting, big data & analytics, machine learning, etc. details of which you can find on our site.

On the right side of our business, we offer places free heating, produced on-site. We select locations where a large percentage of our energy can be used to substitute other primary energy sources and essentially do a simple trade. We get to use their physical space, they get a lower energy bill.

At our partner locations, we install our servers, which we hook up to our own network. All these edge sites together then make up our infrastructure.

GreenEdge Distributed Datacenter
Distributed Cloud Architecture

Why now?

The cloud market is ready for this

In 2013 when I worked at Docker as the project started, web application infrastructure meant starting virtual machines and maintaining them as if they were physical computers. Docker changed all that and revolutionized the way (almost) every company now manages its applications. I should also mention Kubernetes, which is a huge and very popular open-source project. It was initially made possible in large part because of the success of Docker but has since grown to be much bigger and broader. It now brings a whole ecosystem of tools along and has created an universal interface which is compatible between different cloud providers. 

The broad support by cloud providers, and rapidly growing adoption of Kubernetes means customers can now more easily switch between cloud providers, and develop systems where different parts of their application run on different providers’ infrastructure.

For GreenEdge this is a huge benefit. We are small and the hyperscalers so large that we should be comfortable with customers utilizing both. That’s why we also support Multi-Cloud, where customers run workloads at several clouds at the same time and Hybrid-Cloud, where customers run work on-site and in the cloud.

The Netherlands is watching its waste

Throughout society, we see a growing awareness of the upcoming climate problem, and the pressing need to reduce, re-use, and recycle. Amsterdam has called for a stop in the building of new data centers, and the municipality has set itself the ambitious goal to no longer use natural gas for heating by 2040. — It needs alternative sources of heat.

Call to Action

The problems we are trying to solve are complex and our plan is unique. We would like to invite you to join in, and help us meet our goals. One of the best ways is to start by reaching out and start a conversation.

It’s time to do something about dirty clouds
Dirty Power Plant: Image flicr/mezzeddine

Thatcher Peskens

Thatcher is co-founder and Business development lead at Leafcloud
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