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Is cloud computing the next big energy saver for companies?

<p>A new report by technology provider CDW calls cloud computing a &quot;game changer&quot; for more energy efficient IT.</p>

Cloud computing already has cut some businesses' IT costs. But a new report has found that it also could be the next big thing to help reduce their energy use.

The fourth annual Energy Efficient IT Report -- by technology products and services seller CDW -- calls cloud computing a possible “game changer” that's playing a growing role in energy efficiency.

For the report, CDW surveyed 760 people working in private businesses, nonprofits, schools and governments. Of these respondents, 62 percent agreed that cloud computing is an energy efficient way to consolidate data centers. That's up from slightly fewer than half of the respondents in 2010.

"While cloud computing is a market basket of discrete technologies and services," Norm Lillis, CDW’s vice president of systems solutions said in a press release, “it is entirely about IT efficiency, and as a strategy, it can deliver significant energy savings that will complement other solutions within the data center."

Because it enables people to remotely access data -- which otherwise would be stored on their desktops or on company servers -- via the Internet (also known as the cloud), cloud computing can make it easier for employees to telecommute. That can reduce emissions from commuting, as well as lowering other environmental impacts associated with maintaining office space, according to CDW.

“It certainly has other positive implications for energy use, especially when you consider the added benefit of enabling employees to work remotely, which potentially does reduce office space requirements and associated energy use, as well as commuting mileage,” said Mark Lafferty, CDW director of system solutions, in an interview. “Of course, most IT benefit/cost studies would consider those to be soft benefits, as they are difficult to quantify, and the benefits do not necessarily accrue to the organization.

Cloud computing has been a hot topic in IT: Dell this week announced it will buy acquire cloud-client leader Wyse Technology, which claims that 200 million people use its products daily.

But how much energy savings are we talking about here? According to CDW survey respondents, virtualized servers or storage reduced energy use by 28 percent. That was the most popular type of cloud computing, with 65 percent of respondents already using virtualized servers, which essentially tap into unused capacity from various different servers to accomplish tasks.

The report also found a growing focus on green initiatives, with a third of respondents claiming that they consider energy efficiency or environmental friendliness when making data center purchases. A little more than half of respondents said they already have -- or are in the process of making -- energy plans.

But barriers remain. Money and a knowledge gap prevent some organizations from using cloud computing. Some don't know what opportunities are available, while others simply haven't made more efficient computing a priority, according to CDW. More than half of respondents cited both too small of a budget for new systems -- which makes sense considering that the savings don't always outweigh the cost, as Forrester Research analyst James Staten pointed out during Autodesk University in December -- and senior management placing higher priority to other investments, for example.

Other challenges include the difficulty of isolating and measuring energy use. In many cases, those paying the bills aren't paying close attention to electricity costs. And only 8 percent of respondents said it is easy to estimate energy use or savings based on equipment specifications from manufacturers.

“We do not see this as a unique challenge for green initiatives,” Lafferty said. “It is a common issue to any investment in IT or elsewhere in an organization.”

For more information about the report, including results specific to businesses, nonprofits or governments, visit this CDW webpage.

Image of Earth and moving digits by T. L. Furrer via Shutterstock.

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