energy saving

Cloud computing has a silver lining

New research from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) in the UK concludes that companies could achieve annual energy savings running into the billions and annual carbon reductions by using cloud computing services. The findings echo those of a study commissioned by Microsoft in 2010 which showed cloud computing has environmental benefits as well as saving companies costs.
Cloud computing has a silver lining

Computing is where shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility over a network (typically the Internet). The CDP research has found that large companies in the UK plan to accelerate their adoption of cloud computing from 10% to almost 70% of their information technology spend by 2020, attracted by the clear benefits of cloud computing – reduced capital expenditure on IT resources and energy bills, increased storage, and better flexibility, to name a few – which have been widely trumpeted in recent years as more companies transition to the cloud.

Now however, companies are also beginning to realise that adopting cloud computing can also reduce their carbon emissions. According to the CDP study “Cloud Computing – The IT Solution for the 21st Century”, this reduction in the UK alone would be equivalent to the annual emissions of four million passenger vehicles between now and 2020.

In addition, the CDP found that UK companies can reduce the carbon dioxide emissions associated with their IT infrastructure by 50% compared to predicted levels, even without the adoption of cloud.
The results of the study echoed those released in 2010 in the report , “Cloud Computing and Sustainability: The Environmental Benefits of Moving to the Cloud,” commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Accenture and WSP Environment & Energy.

The report provide supporting evidence on the cloud’s environmental benefits, which until now had been guesswork, explains Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist at Microsoft. It highlighted that companies running applications in the cloud can reduce their carbon emissions by 30 percent or more compared with running those same applications in their own infrastructure.

“The IT industry had this nagging question – as more and more services move to the cloud, do they consume more or less energy?” Bernard says. “This study found that you can migrate existing infrastructure to the cloud and see not only growth in productivity but a reduction in energy consumption for those services.”

The study was aimed at understanding how the cloud performs differently from an on-premises environment, said Josh Whitney, corporate sustainability strategy lead with WSP. Using a methodology aligned to the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI) standards, Accenture and WSP compared the energy use and carbon emissions per user for Exchange Server 2007, SharePoint Server 2007, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM with their cloud-based equivalents: Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. The results suggest that for widely deployed and commonly used applications such as e-mail, content sharing and customer relationship management, the cloud can enable significant reduction in carbon emissions.

“The findings are actually pretty impressive,” comments Josh Whitney, corporate sustainability strategy lead with WSP Environment & Energy. “I think this study provides further reinforcement of the benefits of the cloud beyond the bottom line. It provides one of the first quantitative and measurable analyses of the impact that cloud computing can have directly compared to a traditional deployment of IT within a company.”

Up to 90% reduction in carbon footprint

The study assessed the environmental footprint of server, networking and storage infrastructure for three different deployment sizes: small deployments of 100 users, mid-sized deployments of 1,000 users, and large deployments of 10,000 users. Whitney said that across the board, companies reduced energy consumption and carbon emissions when they deployed their applications in the cloud.

Small businesses saw the most dramatic reduction in emissions – up to 90 percent. Large corporations can save at least 30-60 percent in carbon emissions using cloud apps, and mid-size businesses can save 60-90 percent.

“Essentially what you have happening here is similar to driving private automobiles versus riding on public transportation,” Whitney said. “Everyone driving cars on the highway is similar to the inefficiency of an on-premise environment as opposed to taking mass transit, which is effectively the public cloud.” He noted however, that “unlike mass transit, there aren’t any trade-offs for using the cloud.”
The study pointed to several other factors that drove down emissions and consumption, including the fact that datacenters operate servers at much higher utilization rates and are physically constructed to reduce power loss.

Mike Ehrenberg, a technical fellow and chief architect for Microsoft Dynamics, said the study’s findings should reinforce for customers the benefits of moving to the cloud. “One thing we focus on is giving customers choice, and, particularly with Dynamics CRM 2011, we can really give them the same capability and flexibility in the cloud as we can on-premise,” he said. “Now, when they turn around and ask, ‘Which one is right for me?’ we have this study that shows a benefit they probably wouldn’t have thought about with cloud deployment, which is sustainability benefit.”

Bernard concludes that the future holds even more promise than those documented in the study. “In addition to the carbon savings that were found through the study, I’m even more excited about the new kinds of applications that will be developed in the cloud that drive new efficiencies across industries including smart grids, buildings and transportation,” he said. “We will continue to experience efficiency gains over time with computing, and the potential is there for the cloud to have a significant impact and replace activities that have high carbon intensity.”

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