Why the cloud is sustainability's silver lining

This article was originally published by Renewable Energy World is reprinted here with permission.

Cloud computing is getting a lot of buzz. The term describes data-processing operations that are outsourced to server farms, instead of being powered on-site. These range from websites and remotely hosted networks to digital storage space and individual documents.

Software delivered over the web looks very similar to software operating on a personal computer, and is accessible from any computer in the world. Consequently, some IT sector analysts are predicting the death of the personal computer while others believe it will simply become another device to access the online world. Increasingly, the engine of the IT sector is composed of large-scale data servers that are driving the cloud-computing revolution forward. With regard to energy, cloud computing should result in lower costs for users and fewer greenhouse gas emissions by streamlining information-crunching into single facilities on speedy machines.

Slashing Costs

The cloud certainly seems to offer significant cost savings. A recent study found that if companies adopt cloud computing, they can reduce the energy consumption of their IT departments and save money on energy bills.

Cloud computing can save large U.S. companies $12.3 billion on energy costs while cutting carbon emissions by 85.7 million tons annually by 2020, according to a report that tracks climate change information and was commissioned by the non-profit Carbon Disclosure Project, carried out by research firm Verdantix and sponsored by AT&T.

In 2010 Pike Research found that cloud computing could lead to a 38 percent reduction in worldwide data-center energy use by 2020, compared with the projected growth of data-centre energy consumption without cloud computing developments.

However, a few studies are a little less enthusiastic, including a recent University of Melbourne report that found cloud computing can save energy when it leads to the consolidation of servers. But the study further finds that energy efficiency savings are sometimes negated, particularly when companies are using cloud computing for storing data and the number of downloaded and accessed files is larger.

Emissions Savings

The impact of the cloud on CO2 emissions is also potentially huge. A 2010 study from Microsoft, Accenture and WSP Environment and Energy found that moving business applications to the cloud could cut the associated per-user carbon footprint by 30 percent for large, already-efficient companies and as much as 90 percent for the smallest and least efficient businesses. Backing up this take on the situation is another recent study showing that customers of fast-growing cloud computing giant Salesforce’s services produced 95 percent less carbon, on average, compared with running equivalent software in application servers located on the premises.

Image of server racks in the cloud courtesy of Novelo via Shutterstock.

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