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Cloud computing is held up as a major energy saving solution for the IT industry. Putting information onto centralized, highly efficient servers takes a lot of the burden off of individual data centers. Environmental Leader's Emma Stewart and John Kennedy point out another boon for sustainability - smarter design based on easy access to practically limitless information, and easy ways to utilize it to its maximum effect. They point to the fact that cloud computing can mean creating better buildings, infrastructure and policies faster. In other words, the trickle effect can be enormous.The article points out that there is definitely room for improvement in terms of data center energy use.
In 2006, the DOE estimates that U.S. data centers used 61 billion kWh of electricity, representing 1.5 percent of all U.S. electricity use, or the amount used by about 6 million US houses.
McKinsey & Co's 2008 analysis, between 2000 and 2006, the amount of energy used to store and handle data doubled, and without efforts to curb demand, current projections show worldwide carbon emissions from data centers will quadruple by 2020.
An up-and-coming solution for this energy intensive service is cloud computing, where rather than storing data on servers in your own data center that might not be very energy or information efficient, you can send it off to centralized data centers that are made to maximize the speed and efficiency at which data can be stored, accessed and distributed. It can dramatically cut down on the number of data centers scattered around the globe, and therefore the amount of energy required to house and work with all of the world's data. But there's more.
As the article authors point out, another big benefit for sustainability by having all this information in centralized places is the ability to design smarter:
Cloud computing could be the tool that unlocks one of the main drivers of unsustainable practices: poorly informed decision-making.
If designers, architects, engineers, general contractors, energy auditors, land use planners and policy makers are able to access services that use vast sets of dynamic, complex and otherwise un-integrated data on the cloud for pennies a minute, think of the massive impact this could have on buildings, infrastructure, land use and urban design and policy-making.
The authors go on to discuss the ways in which cloud computing can help out sustainable design, from improved analysis abilities to heightened localized data use. The article is well worth a read-through in its entirety.
We tend to think simply about how data centers themselves can be made more efficient, and often get wrapped up in the exciting improvements such as using shipping containers as storage facilities or figuring out alternative power sources. Cloud computing is one of the options that allows us to cut back on physical data centers as well as make those we keep that much more efficient. But keeping an eye on solutions to bigger picture issues that come out of cloud computing is important as well - we are indeed looking at the IT industry as a leader in how to use technology to move us towards more sustainable living. It's great to hear suggestions like these from Stewart and Kennedy.
More on Data Centers and Sustainability
Capegemini Releases an Industry First Green IT Report
HP Steps Up IT Industry Transparency, Releases Supply Chain Emissions Data
The Green Grid Gets Specific With New Datacenter Energy Efficiency Guidelines
Intel Challenges Data Center Pros for Efficiency Ideas