How Does The Cloud Help Your Company Stay Green?

The cloud solves a whole host of problems for businesses, but one that tends to be overshadowed by talk of lowered cost and massive scalability is the environmental benefit.

While it’s true that both as a proportion of global energy use and in absolute terms the energy used by cloud data centers has skyrocketed in recent years, cloud platforms are considerably more efficient than in-house and even colocated hardware has ever been. I’d like to take a look at three reasons the cloud helps companies be more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprints.

1. Better Utilization

Just running servers takes up space and energy for the server itself, cooling, lighting, and so on. Maximizing the efficiency of deployed servers involves making sure that if servers are powered up, they’re being used, but utilization is a hard problem when workloads are locked into specific servers — they can’t be moved to other servers easily and servers can’t be duplicated on the same hardware to maximize utilization.

The cloud solves these problems by virtualizing the servers on which workloads run — rather than a physical server running a task that is in itself essential but only utilizes a fraction of the available resources, it can run multiple virtual servers with workloads that more efficiently utilize capacity. Better utilization reduces the number of physical servers that need to be deployed.

2. Economies Of Scale

Cloud providers are incentivized to strive for lower energy use. Their profit depends on it, so they’re strongly motivated to develop technologies and data center architectures that increase energy efficiency. That’s much easier to do at scale.

Most traditional enterprise businesses do not have the resources, the expertise, or the need to build data centers near the Arctic Circle to reduce power consumption for cooling. Cloud companies do, and they have the expertise to carry it off. That’s an extreme example, but it’s an illustration of the principle — cloud providers have the capacity demand to justify significant investment in energy efficient data centers.

3. More Efficient Infrastructure Decommissioning

This one might seem slightly counter-intuitive, but servers are more likely to be turned off when they’re running in the cloud. Recent studies have shown that once a physical server is deployed, it tends to just sit there humming away whether it’s doing any work or not. Last year, a report revealed that up to a fifth of deployed IT equipment is doing nothing — ghost servers consume energy to no purpose.

It’s a situation best dealt with at an organizational rather than technological level, but the cloud makes it much more likely that unused servers are spun down — it can be done automatically, cloud users can easily monitor the utilization of their hardware, doing so immediately saves money on on-demand services, and decommissioning or spinning down a server takes seconds rather than requiring the unhooking of a physical server.

The cloud’s energy efficiency record is not perfect and there’s still a way to go before as an industry we can be satisfied with our carbon footprint, but, nevertheless we offer companies a significantly more energy efficient solution than in-house deployment.

Image: Flikr/Wendy Longo