Cloud computing is regularly touted as a way for businesses to reduce IT hardware costs and improve infrastructure efficiency and flexibility. However, the benefits to energy consumption and running a ‘green IT' operation are often overlooked when considering cloud adoption.
An increased focus on carbon emissions across Europe, and energy costs that vary from year to year, mean that businesses are coming under pressure to become ‘green'. Equally, many wish to reduce their carbon footprint as a way of running a more environmentally responsible operation.
There are numerous ways for companies to become more environmentally friendly, and adopting cloud computing is probably one of the most modern and advanced ways of cutting carbon emissions without compromising business performance.
Lisa Rodes, vice president of corporate strategy and business development at Icelandic data centre firm Verne Global, said that cloud can be a viable green alternative to traditional on-site IT.
"Not only is a business's carbon footprint significantly reduced, but the risks associated with fluctuations in power costs are severely mitigated. Equally, any punishing levies that come with the failure to meet environmental targets can also be avoided," she said.
The bottom line
Adopting a green IT strategy can also cut costs. Cloud-based IT is delivered from a central pool of resources, greatly reducing the volume of a company's computer hardware, particularly one with multiple business units.
This means less carbon emissions from old hardware that needs to be replaced and disposed of safely. Specialist recycling services exist to handle such disposal, but they can be expensive and some computer components contain harmful material and often end up in a landfill site rather than being recycled.
A company can bypass this by adopting the cloud, saving money on hardware and its replacement while reducing net carbon emissions.
A reduction in hardware waste is an attractive proposition, but the key green benefits of cloud computing come from the energy it saves and the reduction in costs and carbon emissions.
Traditional on-site IT infrastructure relies on constantly running servers, particularly when they are operating in silos and are effectively assigned one task and segregated from other servers.
This means energy is wasted running a server than needs to remain online even if it is used infrequently.
Cloud computing, on the other hand, can run from a centralised pool of hardware resources which can deliver IT infrastructure and services to multiple office locations from one data centre.
Sitting on top of a central resource pool means the computational power needed to run the cloud can be scaled up or down depending on service demands.
The scalable nature of cloud computing means that resources and power consumption can tally with the real-time needs of a business, ensuring that IT services are delivered as efficiently as possible with little wasted energy.
Choosing green power
While cloud computing can mitigate onsite energy consumption, would-be adopters need to remember that data centres still consume vast amounts of energy. Some of the largest facilities use the same amount of energy it takes to power a small city.
Companies looking to have a truly green IT strategy will therefore need to consider the type of energy used to power the data centre hosting their cloud.
Environmental organisation Greenpeace is keen to highlight that data centres should run on renewable energy if the positive environmental impact of cloud computing is not to be eroded.
"Cloud computing has great potential to cut energy use and be environmentally positive, but whether it fulfils that promise depends on whether the companies behind the cloud choose to power it with renewable energy or fossil fuels and nuclear power," said a Greenpeace spokesman.
"If a company moves to the cloud its IT operations might use less energy, but if all that energy is now being powered by coal it's environmentally negative.
"Companies that want their IT to be green should ask prospective cloud providers whether they're powering with renewable energy, and make informed decisions based on the answers they get."
Advances in renewable energy offer several ways to power a data centre without relying on fossil fuels. Wind and solar power are the most attainable alternatives, while tidal power for coastal data centre locations can provide energy and cooling for server banks.
A cleaner future
There are many considerations when adopting cloud computing, and there are risks and rewards in such a move. But cloud computing is a logical step in reducing IT energy consumption for businesses and industries keen to run green IT strategies.
Organisations that retain legacy and on-site IT infrastructures could miss out on the many benefits of cloud computing, ranging from efficient operations to a global reduction in carbon emissions.
Cloud adoption and efficiency will become ever more prevalent with advances in cloud technology and renewable energy, potentially leading to a cleaner and greener future.
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