Reducing Your Carbon Footprint with the Cloud

By Lisa Gecko

One of the less-touted benefits of working with Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) is how much “greener” the cloud is versus the traditional in-house data centers. Drastic reduction in energy expenditure translates into bottom-line savings as well as a substantial reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. With cloud computing’s environmentally friendly carbon footprint, the advantages for corporations working with CSPs are substantial on many levels. Even from a purely fiscal point of view, the age of businesses operating their own IT infrastructure is coming to an end. With each passing year, more and more organizations are moving from managing in-house data centers to much more cost-effective, efficient and environmentally friendly cloud solutions.

The problem with the majority of in-house data centers is that they are not very energy efficient. If you factor in all of the typical IT hardware, as well as the non-IT equipment for cooling, lighting, etc., most companies suffer from a significant percentage of energy waste. One of the metrics for measuring data center efficiency is Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). The PUE is a simple equation (data center energy used divided by the total IT equipment energy used) that is an indicator of non-IT hardware energy consumption. The average PUE for in-house data centers in the United States is currently just shy of 2.0, while some CSPs are already approaching an impressive 1.1 PUE. To appreciate this, it should be understood that a 1.0 PUE would require zero energy from non-IT equipment.

The biggest hurdle for most corporations attempting to reduce their carbon footprint elsewhere is affordability. For some businesses certain changes just aren’t feasible financially to facilitate a greener business model. When making the move to cloud computing the opposite is true. Cloud solutions can reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a number of ways, including dynamic provisioning, multi-tenancy, server utilization and improved data center efficiency, while being more affordable. On average, corporations adding an in-house server will be saddled with 234 Kilowatt hours (Kwh) a month. This is per server, and those servers are idle drawing energy more than ninety percent of the time. Cooling that server at a PUE above 2.0 more than doubles that energy consumption. 500 plus KWh per server cannot compete with cloud-based servers sitting comfortably under 50 Kwh. This is purely fiscal.

How do CSPs accomplish this? Several ways. For one, if your server is idle approximately ninety percent of the time, and still drawing the same amount of energy, that is wasteful. CSPs servers are by function set up to work as close to capacity as possible. This is where dynamic functioning and multi-tenancy come in. Dynamic provisioning refers to waste reduction via matching server capacity with demand, while multi-tenancy is associated with public and hybrid clouds. Multi-tenancy, which is one of the prominent reasons cloud computing is so eco-friendly, involves the sharing of cloud computing facilities—which has really made a dent in the IT carbon footprint. When you take a look at the thousands of businesses world-wide that are already sharing resources in the cloud instead of hemorrhaging energy and money with wasteful on-site data centers, the savings both fiscal and environmental, become clear.

Another aspect to look at regarding in-house data centers beyond energy waste is upkeep and manpower. The cost of upgrading IT hardware has certainly weighed heavily on the minds of many CIO’s looking to remain on top technologically without breaking the bank every year. Also, as data centers grow, more IT specialists are required to keep everything running as smoothly as possible. By migrating to the cloud these issues are far less relevant. This translates to a greener planet as well. A smaller IT department uses less energy, reducing overhead, and less gas traveling to and from work. Also, companies that have made the move to cloud-based solutions no longer need to worry about discarding outdated IT equipment.

The undeniable reasons for turning to CSPs for future IT needs aside—cost savings, service flexibility, etc.—the fact that the cloud is a far greener option than traditional in-house data centers should be exciting for both businesses and their clientele. Given the choice, most people will choose to work with organizations that are committed to reducing their carbon footprint. With less in-house hardware, less heat is generated requiring less energy for cooling and lighting leaving less obsolete equipment, and overall less maintenance necessary. The cloud is not only a bottom-line decision, but a responsible choice for businesses that are genuinely concerned about their role in the future of the environment.