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What’s the Impact of Cloud Computing on the Environment?

Post-Thanksgiving is a time of reflection where we are thankful for technological improvements that allow us to succeed. Every-so-often, technology comes along that not only improves our business but can also help the world. Cloud computing is such a technology. Transitioning to the cloud is a good choice for just about any business, for several reasons. Cloud applications offer scalability, performance, cost-effectiveness and easy mobile access.

However, if you question how your decision to make use of cloud-based software affects the environment, you’re not the only one. The advantages that cloud-based solutions offer do in fact have implications for our planet.

Cloud services differ from more “traditional” approaches by making a single large data center accessible to multiple businesses. When you consider the electrical needs of several smaller data centers, each with their own standalone cooling systems, though, it begins to make sense how these server arrays can be responsible for about two percent of electricity use in the United States.

But is that a bad thing? Maybe not.

Leading the Way

Not surprisingly, companies that have invested billions making the cloud-based infrastructure we’ve come to know and love are deeply interested in their ability to prove the cloud’s advantages—but they’re also interested in how it all impacts the environment.

Google, for one, has teamed up with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to investigate the possibility of increasing efficiency, and the results are promising. Scientists speculate that in the near future, we could potentially power all of Los Angeles for a year with the kilowatts saved by moving common apps to the cloud.

But where is all of this “wasted power” being used in our current configuration? Take small business, for example. If you run an office with 15 computers, and they stay on all the time, you’re not even close to maximizing the energy those computers are using. A recent study revealed that the average computer in a small business setting like this is actually used less than 10 percent of the time it’s drawing power.

Now imagine moving all of the application processes from the computers in that office out to a data center. Yes, the servers are still on all the time, but a single server in a massive array can handle all of the tasks carried out in the office. During the time your office isn’t online, another business can take advantage of that resource. It’s a win based on sharing of resources.

Counting Carbon Credits

It’s not just a matter of saving power, though. Huge reductions in carbon footprint can also be realized by migrating to a data-based infrastructure. The process is called dematerialization. Simply put, it means using fewer physical resources to accomplish the same level of productivity. Migrating to the cloud means fewer machines are used, which in turn reduces power costs and the subsequent cooling needs that require more power.

Businesses don’t have to be large for the gains to be significant, either. If you’re an IT manager looking for that last little bit of ammunition in your argument to transition to the cloud, consider shedding some light on the environmental benefits of making the change.

Carbon emissions are reduced in several ways by switching to the cloud. For example, large providers can use only the resources they need to accomplish a job, as compared to purchasing multiple computers that see just limited use.

When new technologies allow providers to create more efficient data centers, the reduction in their carbon footprint is immediately amplified because of their global reach. Just take a look at this statistic: A Microsoft-led study on the impact of cloud infrastructure on carbon emissions revealed that businesses can save over 30 percent of their carbon emissions per user just by taking advantage of cloud-based services.

A New Paradigm on the Way

With the growing number of advantages that cloud architecture delivers, it seems only to be a matter of time before all computing is performed through cloud-based services.

That doesn’t mean we have overcome all of the challenges needed to master cloud computing, however. There are still major industries—banking, for example—that are hesitant to make the transition due to concerns about data integrity and security.

The full realization of a cloud-only global network could be 30 years out, but even so, we’ve already begun the journey there, and things won’t slow down from here on out. While the transition may be gradual, the rewards we can enjoy in the way we treat our environment are immediate, and we should use that as a motivator to deploy these new technologies quickly, wherever possible.

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