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Clear Skies: How Cloud Computing Helps the Environment

Lots of people these days are doing their part to live a “greener” lifestyle. There’s certainly an effort to use more sustainable forms of energy as a way to protect the environment, and businesses in general are no different. It just so happens that taking more environmentally friendly measures also leads to cost savings in the long run. Perhaps one of the most impactful and promising ways companies are protecting the environment is through the widespread adoption of cloud computing. Whether intentional or not, cloud computing has the potential to really cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and help the planet out in multiple ways. And for those businesses without an environmental focus, saving some money doesn’t sound like a bad idea either.

Numerous studies have been conducted in recent years that take a look at the impact cloud computing has on the environment. One study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory along with Northwestern University is perhaps the most cited about the subject. In the study, researchers looked at the effects of moving fairly common business applications like email, CRM software, and productivity software like spreadsheets and word processing to the cloud. The results are striking. If all businesses in the U.S. were to move these local systems to cloud services, the amount of energy consumed by IT departments would be cut by 87%, or roughly the amount of energy needed to power the city of Los Angeles for an entire year. Another study out of Europe showed that if the biggest companies in the UK and France moved their IT systems to data networks shared on the cloud, they would cut their own carbon emissions by half by 2020 while also reducing costs significantly.

(Tweet This: One study shows widespread #cloud adoption would cut IT energy costs by up to 87%. #green)

Time will tell if businesses look at these studies and decide to adopt cloud computing if they haven’t done so already, but based off of the results, it’s something they’ll likely look into. Cloud computing is able to achieve these drastic cuts in CO2 emissions and costs in a number of ways. One reason is that cloud computing ends up using fewer machines than a bunch of individual companies working on their own. The key to using fewer machines lies in utilization rates of servers. By themselves, company servers usually have a very low utilization rate, meaning computing and data centers are notably inefficient. Cloud computing allows data centers to use fewer machines at greater levels of efficiency and much higher utilization rates for servers. In essence, machine use is consolidated, with less equipment running idle, just waiting to be used. With fewer machines using up power, energy costs will clearly go down.

Another way cloud computing tackles environmental problems is through its effect on climate control costs. Machines like servers and computers need to be cooled if businesses want to run them at peak performance. That means environmental controls have to be carefully tuned so that temperature and humidity levels are at just the right spot. Businesses doing this for their own individual data centers and server rooms would inevitably lead to numerous inefficiencies and wasteful spending. By moving these concerns to cloud computing vendors, the vendors will be able to handle the climate control costs by using more efficient layouts and energy-saving equipment. The climate control costs will be dealt with by the vendor while cutting down on the amount of carbon emissions in total.

Cloud computing can also help the environment through a recent development in technology. Right now, many companies use virtual machines as a way to consolidate operations, but cloud computing can also be used through Linux containers. These containers are a way to encapsulate software, isolating it from other programs and applications, allowing the software to be easily moved from one machine to another. Companies like Google already make use of containers for good reason. Containers allow even more efficiency from servers--sometimes up to 90% efficiency. While that greater efficiency is certainly helpful, it also means a significant cut in CO2 emissions, which will in turn be environmentally friendly.

Moving multiple operations to the cloud is definitely a growing trend. Many businesses are attracted to the idea based off of the cost savings, but with cloud computing comes the added benefit of less energy use and smaller environmental impact. As businesses become more efficient, they also become greener. It’s not too far-fetched to think that every company in the future will have a good environmental record.
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