Climate Action

Cloud computing: A silver lining for climate change?

A report on US companies suggests that the carbon footprint of a business can be dramatically reduced by replacing old IT systems with cloud computing.

  • 29 July 2011
  • A report on US companies suggests that the carbon footprint of a business can be dramatically reduced by replacing old IT systems with cloud computing.
Cloud computing is blue-sky thinking
Cloud computing is blue-sky thinking

Businesses can cut their carbon footprint and make large savings through switching their existing IT systems to “cloud computing”, according to a new study.

The report on US companies by sustainability analysts Verdantix suggested that a large, multi-national company with revenues of $10 billion could save up to 30,000 metric tons of CO2 though cloud computing. This is the equivalent of taking 5,900 cars off the road for a year.

If take-up of the idea grew in line with the report’s predictions then it could lead to a cut of 85.7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in the US by 2020. This prediction is based on the condition of each business spending 69 per cent of IT budgets on cloud computing.

Cloud computing involves outsourcing the various IT processes that a company uses, such as servers, software, files and applications to a central and remote “cloud” accessible with an internet connection. Any application needed by a company can then be accessed remotely and in a more flexible way to meet their demands and to decrease energy use in the business.

Computer use in companies has grown rapidly over the past ten years. The US Department of Energy believes that computer IT centres may be consuming up to three per cent of total electricity in the US today.

The study used case study evidence from 11 multi-national companies that have been using cloud computing services for at least two years.

The utilisation of energy in cloud computing has been compared to the development of centralised electrical generation in the early 20th century.

In the study, Andrew Winston, a sustainable business expert, said that data centres can lose up to 96 per cent of the energy coming into their operation. It can be lost through cooling the IT network servers plus the room they are in as well as keeping servers running idly.

Often businesses will have peak demands and trough periods for IT functions during the year, but keeping necessary services running all the time mean that their utilisation rates can be as low as 10 or 20 per cent. Businesses can instead draw upon the services of the cloud and pay for this use on a more flexible user pays tariff.

Mr Winston said: “IT is one of the fastest growing energy hogs, accounting for at least two percent of global energy use and is set to more than double over this decade.”

“Executives should view cloud computing as a way to transition to a low carbon business model while increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of business operations.”

There are other strong possible business benefits to be gained through adopting cloud technology.

Apart from energy cost savings, the time it takes to bring a business or product to market should decrease because necessary IT services can be downloaded from the cloud in a much shorter space of time than installing new servers. Companies could save money through employing fewer IT staff.

Some barriers still remain in the way of widespread adoption of the technology including perceived security concerns about sensitive data being placed online outside of traditional company boundaries. The reliability of the service also needs to be demonstrably high as companies can’t afford wasted days in the event of a cloud crash. It is also currently quite difficult to calculate a cost-benefit analysis for adopting such a technology.



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