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How Green is the Cloud, Really?

I read a great article on Microsoft’s new survey, “Cloud Computing and Sustainability: The Environmental Benefits of Moving to the Cloud.” In that study, Microsoft suggests that large businesses could cut their direct energy consumption and carbon emissions by up to 30% by moving certain on-premise applications into the cloud.

From its study, Microsoft found that the impact on smaller companies was even greater: energy use and emissions can be reduced by up to 90% by using the cloud rather than home-operated IT infrastructure.

The study looked at three different use cases  — one with 100 users, one with 1,000 users, and another with 10,000 users.

The study found that the biggest environmental benefits come from the cloud’s biggest technical selling points. For example:

  • Dynamic provisioning ensures that server resources are matched to actual need;
  • Multi-tenancy makes for more even peak loads that flattens out energy costs;
  • Server utilization gives users better use out of the hardware;
  • More efficient data center designs have advanced cooling and power conditioning technologies

But what happens when the big data centers grow in popularity and more people gravitate to the cloud? Energy use rises, and there goes the theory of cloud environmental benefits. For example, Symantec recently reported that its data center energy usage was up 4% over the past year.

Another point, as ZDnet blogger Heather Clancy recently made, what about all those servers being replaced for the cloud? Where do they go — into a  landfill?  And there’s been plenty of press about Facebook’s decision to open a datacenter powered by coal in Oregon.

There are definitely environmental benefits to the cloud, and it would be a mistake to overlook or underplay them. But you can exercise some power over the environmental benefits of the cloud by asking questions of your provider, for example, “How do you power your data centers?”

On another level you can promote green computing within your own organization by donating servers or using them for less crucial apps.  For more information on the benefits of the cloud, including environmental benefits, read this Paid Monitor whitepaper.

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