Cloud Computing Can Cut Data Center Energy by 38% by 2020

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Photo via Jaymi Heimbuch
Pike Research brought out good news this week for cloud computing. The energy efficiency benefits of cloud computing over traditional data center operations are becoming more well known as many companies switch over, and forecasts show that the growing interest in using cloud computing could lead to a reduction in global energy use for data centers by as much as 38% by 2020. It could mean a drop in spending from $23.3 billion in 2010 to $16 billion in 2020, and a nice fat drop in greenhouse gas emissions of 28% from 2010 levels for the industry in an ideal situation. Cloud computing, in a very tiny nutshell, is internet-based computing. With cloud computing as an option, companies don't have to build their own data centers or host their own servers, but instead can store their data and software on servers located elsewhere. Just the way that your gmail or Flickr photos are stored "in the cloud," so too can businesses use cloud computing instead of buying racks of new servers. And it's becoming far more popular, which could be a great thing for energy efficiency.

"The growth of cloud computing will have a very significant positive effect on data center energy consumption," says senior analyst Eric Woods in a statement. "Few, if any, clean technologies have the capability to reduce energy expenditures and GHG production with so little business disruption. Software as a service, infrastructure as a service, and platform as a service are all inherently more efficient models than conventional alternatives, and their adoption will be one of the largest contributing factors to the greening of enterprise IT."

This is something Greenpeace is likely happy to hear, since they strongly push the IT sector to step up as a potential superhero in the fight to reduce GHG emissions globally. The group just released their latest Cool IT Leaderboard, showing which IT companies are doing the most to green their operations -- Cisco is still in the lead thanks to factors from their leadership in building a functioning smart grid to their advancement of technologies for teleconferencing and telecommuting. However, Greenpeace has also pointed out that cloud computing isn't without its own negative impact on carbon emissions -- earlier in the year, the group released a report stating that cloud computing emissions could triple by 2020. The increase is due mainly to our smart devices, the cell phones, iPads, ereaders and other devices that utilize the cloud. There are millions of these devices being used all the time, which can cause the cloud to be less than stellar on energy efficiency. Overall, green IT is a mix of pros and cons -- cloud computing can help with energy efficiency in some instances, but not all instances, and it has a GHG footprint that also needs to be considered.

Greenpeace energy policy analyst Gary Cook stated in a press release about the new Cool IT Leaderboard, "The sector is happy to talk about its potential to lower carbon emissions by 15 percent by 2020, but thus far, IT companies are still taking an incremental approach instead of providing transformative solutions at the scale and speed for which they are known. The corporate sector, and particularly IT, must work today, not tomorrow, to change the status quo and intervene at important junctures to speak up for strong climate and energy policy."

Cloud computing is proving to be no small piece of the IT efficiency pie, and Pike Research has a full report titled "Cloud Computing Energy Efficiency", which analyzes just how much of a benefit it can be for energy efficiency.

Data Centers are big energy hogs and currently represent roughly 2% of the global GHG emissions, and growing. As we switch to a more and more Internet-dependent lifestyle, data centers, and therefore an increase in emissions, will grow. But cloud computing technology can help relieve a portion of the footprint created by data centers if fewer individual data centers are constructed -- and according to Pike Research, it's possibly a substantial portion if cloud computing technology is optimized, being used when it's a better solution to building a bigger data center.

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More on Cloud Computing and Data Centers
Report: Cloud Computing GHG Emissions To Triple by 2020, iPad and Similar Devices Are Big Culprits
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