Cloud computing was the topic of a recent Greenpeace report that described the growth and scale of investments in the cloud as “truly mind-blowing,” and cited an expected 50-fold increase in the amount of digital information being created by 2020.
The report’s truer purpose, however, was to call attention to the less-than-green energy sources powering the data centers behind some clouds — and to make headlines. For example, it called out Apple as a major offender, while noting in fine print that it didn’t have all the facts on the company. Uncharacteristically, Apple responded that it’s currently building the world’s greenest data center and its next project will, better still, run on 100 percent renewable energy.
The report serves as a prompt, too, for discussing the environmental benefits of cloud solutions, whether public, private, or, as is most often the case, a hybrid of the two.
“The concept they had was great — let’s take a look and make sure things are being done right. But I think maybe they were stretching it a bit,” Ian Campbell, CEO of Nucleus Research offered with a kind laugh, during a private interview.
“The point I’d be rallying for instead,” he said, “is that if you’re not cloud-based in some way, you’re not as efficient as you could be.”
Nucleus Research has found cloud-based applications to use 91 percent less energy than traditional on-premise applications. In a survey of a major cloud-based solutions provider, Nucleus found its customers were saving the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil every hour.
Additionally, Accenture — commissioned by Microsoft to study whether there is a true net benefit to moving to the cloud, or whether one is just “outsourcing” one’s environmental impact — analyzed the use of three applications in cloud-based versus premise-based solutions and found the benefits to be greater the smaller the company. The decrease in CO2 emissions for the cloud-based apps, it found, was more than 90 percent for companies with approximately 100 users, between 60 and 90 percent for companies with closer to 1,000 users, and between 30 and 60 percent for those with 10,000 users.
Which isn’t to say that only small companies can see a major impact. Unilever, for example, has stated that it plans to use cloud-based technology to double its business without increasing its environmental footprint at all.
Even premise-based cloud solutions can realize environmental benefits.
“With a private cloud, if you’re using virtual machines,” said Nucleus’ Campbell, “you’re definitely getting a significant benefit by doing that.”
During intense spikes in traffic, server farms are able to create efficiencies by spreading out the load. Private clouds, explained Campbell, are a “good way to take a step in that same direction.”
The Accenture study reached the same conclusion.
“Virtualization offers a strategy to improve server utilization for both cloud and on-premise scenarios by allowing applications to run in an environment separated from the underlying physical servers,” it stated. “Multiple virtual machines can share a physical server running at high utilization, which reduces the number of physical servers required to meet the same demand.”
In this way, it continued, IT departments can “narrow the efficiency gap between an on-premise deployment and a multi-tenant cloud service.”
Campbell noted that companies consistently perform cost analyses, balancing costs against rewards. Reducing hardware and so reducing energy demands, he said, “is more of a benefit analysis. You can be green and still save money.”
He added, wryly, “Even the cold, black heart of the CFO can be satisfied.”
Has a desire for a reduced carbon footprint — or to be “greener” — at all motivated your own cloud-solution decisions? Let me know in the Comments section below.
Christopher Yeich is Director of Strategic Content for Geeknet Media.