How Green Is Cloud Computing?

How Green Is Cloud Computing?

“There must be a better way to make the things we want, a way that doesn’t spoil the sky, or the rain or the land.”
– Sir Paul McCartney, singer-songwriter and member of the legendary ‘Beatles’.

What with all the news about global warming and rising sea levels, sustainability and going green is all the rage nowadays. Even in the US where consumerism has been a way of life, the man in the biggest car is no longer the most respected. Drive a Hummer and you will be ridiculed; drive a Prius and you will be looked at with respect.

Although there have been several definitions of sustainability, I find the following one by environmentalist Guy Dauncey to be very clear and succinct: “Sustainability is a condition of existence which enables the present generation of humans and other species to enjoy social wellbeing, a vibrant economy, and a healthy environment, and to experience fulfillment, beauty and joy, without compromising the ability of future generations of humans and other species to enjoy the same.”

It makes sense to go green not only from an altruistic point of view but also because it makes sound business sense. American consumers have began demanding environmental consciousness from their manufacturers and vendors, and they are willing to pay slightly higher for it. Also, with carbon credit trading picking up steam, it makes sense to reduce a firm’s carbon footprint. Investing for the future is a worthwhile strategy, especially since stricter regulations are on their way.

So what has this to do with cloud computing? Quite a bit, actually. Other than the obvious advantages of increased efficiencies, scalability, redundancy and decreased costs, cloud computing is also a green technology. And there are studies to back this up. There’s a disclaimer here: both the studies mentioned in this article have been commissioned by IT firms invested in cloud computing.

I touched upon the environment-friendly aspect of cloud computing in an earlier article (See: How Cloud Computing Affects Real People) where a study commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Accenture and WSP Environment & Energy was mentioned. This demonstrated cloud computing’s potential to operate business applications more efficiently, resulting in a potentially lower environmental impact.

Now, cloud computing superstar has released the results of another study in which WSP Environment & Energy was yet again a partner. The study says that customers of Salesforce.com’s cloud computing services produce 95 percent less carbon, on average, compared with running equivalent software in on-premise application servers.

The company’s management, obviously, was quick to capitalize on such impressive numbers. “With Salesforce.com’s multi-tenant model, organizations that value sustainability can give their users powerful enterprise apps without the high cost, complexity and CO2 emissions associated with on-premise systems or false clouds that still require companies to buy hardware and install software,” Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “The Salesforce.com community saved an estimated 170,900 tons of carbon in 2010 – the equivalent of taking 37,000 cars off the road, or avoiding the consumption of 19.5 million gallons of gas.”

Some of the reasons for such savings seem to be obvious. With its on-demand model, cloud computing eliminates to keep data centers up and running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, thereby reducing electricity consumption. And with most of the world’s generation of electricity being thermal-based, this translates to significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

There has also been academic support for these claims. “This study proves what I’ve suspected for years – the use of public cloud computing offers significant energy and environmental advantages,” said Jonathan G. Koomey, Ph.D., consulting professor of civil and environmental engineering, Stanford University, who reviewed the analysis. “The cloud’s diversity of users and economies of scale make it tough to beat from either an environmental or cost perspective.”

Salesforce.com took the opportunity to unveil the industry’s first daily carbon savings estimator, supposedly showing real-time carbon savings for its entire customer community. However, there have been some voices of skepticism on these tremendously impressive numbers. “It’s one of the goofier things I’ve heard someone say about cloud computing lately,” remarked Charles King, principal analyst at IT industry analysis firm Pund-IT.

In spite of his doubts on the numbers, King has expressed his support for the belief that cloud computing does help to reduce greenhouse emissions. Therefore, in conclusion, I can say that cloud computing is green; how green is it is still subject to debate.

By Sourya Biswas

sourya

Sourya Biswas is a former risk analyst who has worked with several financial organizations of international repute, besides being a freelance journalist with several articles published online. After 6 years of work, he has decided to pursue further studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he has completed his MBA. He holds a Bachelors in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Information Technology. He is also a member of high-IQ organizations Mensa and Triple Nine Society and has been a prolific writer to CloudTweaks over the years... http://www.cloudtweaks.com/author/sourya/

One Response to How Green Is Cloud Computing?

  1. Thanks for the article. It raises interesting questions… how fast, how many networks does the “cloud” activity have to pass through to function?… and how much energy is needed to keep the expanding network up? Certainly major networking and data centers have potential to be highly optimized (in ways not possible on the desktop). And certainly, people will be computing on the “cloud” (YouTube, GMail, etc) regardless if they have a “hummer” desktop, or an ultra-efficient “net-top”.

    Serious potential, but going forward, caution is warranted to reasonably state claims. More than all of this however, what concerns me is the increasing rate at which society is munching through and disposing technology. To solve this challenge, it is important to reasonably consider the full lifecycle and total cost of ownership of the technologies we adopt.

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