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IT sector urged to address cloud's environmental impact

As cloud computing becomes the rule, cloud computing experts at the University of Sydney are calling for tighter international regulations on managing computer hardware waste.

With hundreds of data centres, thousands of server rooms and individual racks in Australia alone, there is an urgent need for industry to fully address the environmental impact of cloud computing, said Professor Albert Zomaya, head of the university's Centre for Distributed and High Performance Computing.

"The industry is like a rapidly growing teen," he said in a statement. "We are now in a perfect position to develop and implement international guidelines on how to find solutions to reduce and recycle massive amounts of computer waste."

He cites the world's largest data campus is in Nevada, measuring 2.2million square feet, but China is building a larger, commercial computing centre in Langfang. When completed in 2016, it will be nearly the same size as the Pentagon.

In this highly connected world, we need to be more conscious of the physical impact of cloud computing.

"Much of what is currently being used in data centres - server hardware for example - will simply be stripped of its precious metals and then used as landfill in developing nations," said Zomaya.

Zomaya said there is a recognised need for regulation in this area. He urges the IT industry to comment on an Australian Department of Industry report recommending servers, storage and other data centre equipment sold in Australia and New Zealand be subject to an energy rating scheme similar to fridges and other household goods. Submissions close next month.

"In this highly connected world, we need to be more conscious of the physical impact of cloud computing. Cloud computing centres or data centres can be as large as a football field requiring enormous amounts of power to both run and cool their hardware. They operate 24 hours a day 7 days a week."

In addition, he said many cloud computing centres are underutilised, often not working to full capacity.

One way to reduce waste is to encourage small businesses to adopt a hybrid model of cloud computing,or combining the use of both public and privately owned infrastructure, he states.

He said the hybrid model benefits both providers and clients: Providers increase their revenue and facility is used closer to capacity, while clients save on the provision of their own hardware, personnel and power costs.

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