The Cloud: Better for Business and the Environment

WSP Environment & Energy and the National Resources Defense Council published new research this month that confirmed cloud computing’s environmental-friendliness. In their study, the cloud outperformed on-premise IT infrastructures in every measurable energy efficiency category. In PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness, the ratio of a data center’s energy usage for computing purposes to its total energy usage, with an ideal value of 1.0), the best private cloud beat the best non-virtualized on-premise IT infrastructure 1.3 to 1.5. In the Server Utilization Rate category (the measure of how much a data center’s servers’ CPUs are being utilized at any given time), the best private cloud surpassed the best non-virtualized on-premise infrastructure 60% to 25%. The report concluded that even the least environmentally-friendly cloud infrastructure would be guilty of less than half the carbon emissions of the average on-premise system. More remarkably, the most environmentally-friendly cloud would be responsible for an amazing 48-times less carbon emission than the average on-premise infrastructure.

Reasons for cloud computing being more “green” than on-site IT infrastructures include:

-Superior hardware efficiency. According to the study, on-site, non-virtualized infrastructures utilize only 5-15% of their servers’ CPU on average. This would not be an issue if power consumption corresponded with server utilization. However, idle and underutilized servers consume as little as 10% less energy than a fully-utilized unit. Meanwhile, the report also points out that a cloud infrastructure has an up to 65% better Server Utilization Rate than non-virtualized, on-site system. The cloud also lets multiple organizations share a single server. Therefore, cloud computing not only increases the efficiency of servers, it also reduces their overall number (eliminating the energy usage and pollution associated with manufacturing, disposing of, and recycling the hardware).

-Improved data center management. As the WSP Environment & Energy and the National Resources Defense Council report puts it, “Small SMO [small-and-medium-sized organization] server rooms are often managed inefficiently and suffer from classic economies of scale issues that cloud server providers are directly incentivized to manage…Most SMOs are unable to achieve the low PUEs that cloud server providers are realizing in their best-in-class data centers.”

-Enhanced mobility. With a cloud infrastructure, employees can access their files and applications from home. This reduces the number of times that people have to commute to an office, which in turn limits the travel time of carbon-emitting vehicles. Cloud-based virtual offices may even replace physical workplaces in the future, cutting vehicle and office building emissions and energy usage even further.

-Cleaner energy source. The nearest electricity-generating facility determines the energy source of a data center. A cloud data center may therefore be less environmentally-friendly than an on-premise system if located close to a coal plant, as a result. However, environmentally-conscious cloud hosting providers often build their data centers near dams and wind and solar farms for this very reason.

For most businesses, the environment isn’t a top concern. But since the cloud improves energy efficiency and lowers emissions while increasing IT infrastructures’ reliability, security, and cost-effectiveness, companies with on-premise IT infrastructures have every financial and moral incentive to switch. Other benefits of adopting a “green” cloud infrastructure include:

-Marketing. Eighty percent of consumers have a moderate-to-high interest in “green” products. An environmentally-friendly IT infrastructure gives businesses something to entice this sizable audience with.

-Cap-and-trade. California recently became the first state to impose cap-and-trade. Federal adoption may be close behind, with the recently re-elected President Barack Obama being a cap-and-trade supporter. This market-based approach basically forces polluting companies to pay money to “green” businesses. Cloud-based infrastructures could save businesses from burdensome environmental taxes and fees in the future.

-Reduction of global warming. Hurricane Sandy caused $50 billion in damage. Experts and columnists disagree on whether global warming amplifies the strength of natural disasters like Sandy. However, a low-emissions cloud infrastructure would help business owners that believe in global warming to prevent further destruction of lives and property.

When selecting a hosting provider, businesses should remember that well-run private cloud data centers have almost half the PUE (1.3 to 2.5) and more than eight times the Server Utilization Rate (60% to 7%) of poorly-run private cloud data centers. onthenetOffice, a leading IT hosting company, has a Server Utilization Rate approaching 90% thanks to our SMX Speed Technology. 24x7x365 performance monitoring by our technicians maximizes the efficiency of our data centers, ensuring a low PUE. No other hosting firm surpasses onthenetOffice in efficiency or ecological best practices.

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