The Cloud, carbon and energy-efficiency
Posted by Lauren Pope
Cloud computing has boomed in the last few years, heralded as a cheaper and greener approach to IT. In short, it means moving your IT functions (for example your data, software or website) to remote servers and data centres, and then accessing them via the internet.
According to McKinsey, IT was responsible for around 2% of the world’s carbon footprint in 2007, and this is predicted to double to 4% by 2020, so the Cloud represents a huge opportunity in terms of carbon reduction and energy-efficiency, which is what we’re exploring in this guide.
Why the Cloud is more energy-efficient
Providers of cloud IT services have huge data centres, which run all the time and use a massive amount of energy; because of this, they take the energy-efficiency of their operations very seriously. The data centres are carefully managed and continuously optimised in a way that you probably wouldn’t have the time or resources to do yourself, to make sure they use energy as efficiently as possible, which not only brings down costs, but also reduces the associated carbon footprint. There’s also the economy of scale to consider - these data centres are more efficient because of the huge volumes that they deal with.
The efficiency of a data centre is measured in power usage effectiveness (PUE) - according to a Greenpeace report, a PUE rating of 2 is average and 1 is perfect, and most cloud providers now rate between 1.1 and 1.6.
The impact of the Cloud on carbon emissions
The Cloud may be more energy-efficient, but that doesn’t mean that it’s low carbon; the source of the energy that’s being used to power the data centre has a big impact on its carbon footprint. For example, a data centre in Ireland may be run on electricity from a traditional gas-fired power station, meanwhile in Iceland, a data centre may be run on clean, green geothermal power.
The nature of the Cloud means you can choose where your data sits, and whether you want that to be somewhere where renewable or green energy is used. Mastodon C has a very useful dashboard that lets you compare the carbon emissions and cost of data centres around the world.
How the Cloud can save your business carbon and money
If you currently have your own in-house servers or data centre then you’ll have them running 24/7, which will obviously be having a big impact on your energy bills.
Switching to the Cloud will obviously have a big impact on your energy usage, which will save you money, and could also cut your carbon emissions, depending on your choice of data centre. It will also mean that you only have to pay for the capacity you need at any particular time, which can be far more economical.
A study by the Carbon Disclosure Project found that if a food & beverage company moved its HR application from dedicated IT to the Cloud, it could cut CO2 emissions by up to 30,000 metric tons over five years. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of 5,900 cars.
It also interviewed a number of blue-chip companies that had moved to the Cloud and found that, for many of them, saving money had been the main reason for the decision.
Anticipated cost reductions were as high as 40%-50% when implementing an internal private cloud. ”
If you’re part of the CRC efficiency scheme, moving to the Cloud and choosing a low-carbon data centre will reduce the number of carbon credits you have to buy to cover your emissions.
Case studies: Facebook and Google
These may be two internet giants, but their stories can still provide some interesting insight on how businesses are using the Cloud to cut their carbon footprint.
Facebook came under fire for its carbon footprint back in 2010 because its data centres were run on electricity generated by coal-fired power stations. Since then, Facebook has cleaned up its act and even won praise from Greenpeace; in 2011 23% of its energy came from clean or renewable sources and it’s also building a new data centre in Sweden which will be powered primarily by renewable energy.
According to Google, its data centers are some of the most efficient in the world, using 50% less energy. They say it’s saved them an incredible $1 billion in energy costs to date, and they also buy electricity directly from wind farms near their data centers to cut their carbon footprint.