The Cloud, carbon and energy-efficiency

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 data, software, websites) 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. As a result the ‘Cloud’ represents a huge opportunity in terms of carbon reduction and energy-efficiency.

This guide will attempt to shine a light in just what is the Cloud and how it can benefit energy efficiency.

Why is the Cloud more energy-efficient?

Anyone who runs an office, complete with server racks and large air conditioning units will know just how much energy it takes to keep things operating.

Just like traditional servers or large data centres, Cloud still uses energy (a lot of energy in fact) so it can be a challenge to see where the energy-saving and carbon benefits kick in.

Providers of Cloud services operate 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. In common with all businesses energy is a significant cost consideration for data centres, but the Cloud’s costs are more pronounced than most. Not managing their industry’s major cost base would be commercial suicide.

Therefore the data centres are carefully managed and continuously optimised to make sure they use energy as efficiently as possible. This not only brings down costs, but also reduces the associated carbon footprint.

The result is that the efficiency level of the average data centre as measured in power usage effectiveness (PUE) is between 1.1 and 1.6 where a rating of 2 is average and 1 is perfect.

The impact of the Cloud on carbon emissions

Not only is the Cloud more energy-efficient solution than individual server rooms but they are beginning to focus on the source of the energy that’s being used to power the data centre which has an equally significant impact on its carbon footprint.

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.

Not all Cloud data centres operate using innovative energy sources so it is useful to understand their individual footprints. 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 then they’ll naturally be running 24/7, more often than not at full capacity, as micro management of servers isn’t economic for most businesses.

However switching to the Cloud will mean that you only have to pay for the capacity you need at any particular time, with micro controlled server capacity which can be far a more economical solution – paying someone else to operate on a level of flexibility and economies of scale that you cannot match individually, whilst utilising renewable and low carbon energy sources.

A case study undertaken by the Carbon Disclosure Project found that if a high profile food & beverage company had moved just its HR application from a dedicated IT server room to the Cloud, the it could have cut their CO2 emissions by 30,000 metric tons over five years.

That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of 5,900 cars.

The Carbon Disclosure Project 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 driver for their decision.

Given blue-chips are part of the CRC efficiency scheme, moving to the Cloud and choosing a low-carbon data centre is an entirely sensible way to reduce the number of carbon credits you have to buy to cover your emissions. However there are still strong reasons for even small businesses taking advantage of the Cloud.

Here at Business Juice our entire system capability has been cloud based for the last two years, it has not only reduced our server costs, increased flexibility and back-up security but it has enabled us to move offices from London to Solihull with no interruption to our service and total continuity of our operations.

The Cloud: Case Studies

Don’t just take our word for it, Facebook and Google’s case studies underline the benefits.

They 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

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.

Google

According to Google, its data centers are some of the most efficient in the world, using 50% less energy than the average centre. Google claim it’s saved them an incredible $1 billion in energy costs to date, and they also buy electricity directly from dedicated wind farms near their data centers to cut their carbon footprint.

The Cloud makes sense for businesses large and small on a commercial level, making the right choice of provider can have similar benefits from an environmental perspective. We know, we’ve tried it and would never go back.

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