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Is cloud computing green computing?

Is cloud computing green computing?

August 17, 2011 by Kerry Hale

Copenhagen Power Stations at dusk

Can cloud computing reduce carbon emissions? (Image: Aske Holst on Flickr.)

More businesses than ever are moving some of their IT to the cloud. In fact Microsoft’s SMB Cloud Adoption Study 2011, which surveyed more than 3,000 businesses worldwide, showed that 39% expect to use at least one cloud computing service by 2013.

As concerns over global warming increase, cloud computing is being hailed as green computing too. But can this really be true? Is the cloud the easiest way to move to green computing?

What is green computing?

Green computing is computing which uses electricity efficiently.

According to a 2001 study (PDF link), an office of 10 typical PCs, storing data locally and saving documents on a server, consumes an average of 215 kWh of electricity per working week. Those PCs also produce a lot of heat, which may mean you need air-conditioning, using even more power.

In its most extreme form, cloud computing replaces your business PCs with ‘thin clients’ which contain no software, no disk and no moving parts. They connect to a remote server which stores data and does the actual work. Everything you need, you access remotely.

This can significantly cut the amount of energy you use in your office. On average, the same size office would consume 133 kWh per working week. That’s a big difference: in terms of carbon emissions, it’s like driving 9.000 fewer miles in a new car. Even allowing for improvements in PC efficiency since that 2001 study, you’re still likely to see a saving.

So it might mean you have green computing on your premises. But are you just shifting the environmental impact elsewhere?

Green computing doubts

Some environmental organisations have questioned how green the cloud really is. After all, cloud computing requires lots of servers, kept in vast datacentres which consume huge amounts of power.

Greenpeace has been particularly vocal in dampening the cloud’s green computing credentials. Their supporting report suggests IT energy consumption will triple by 2020. But could this just be down to the growing use of technology rather than the cloud?

After all, the use of home computers has been on the rise for years and 35% of homes now have more than just one computer.

The Greenpeace report does recognise that IT companies look to locate their datacentres in places that minimise the environmental impact. For instance, HP put a datacentre in Newcastle because then they could use the sea air to cool servers naturally. And Yahoo uses hydroelectric power in its New York datacentre.

The cloud and green computing conclusions

The environmental performance of cloud computing really depends on how you use it and which equipment you choose.

Older computers were not built to be environmentally friendly, so if you’re simply hooking a cloud computing service up to a five-year-old PC then you’re not doing a lot to move to green computing.

In contrast, combining the cloud with a modern, more energy efficient computer can almost certainly reduce the amount of energy your IT uses.

Check out the Google Chromebook. Almost nothing is stored on this laptop. All you have is a web browser, through which you have to do everything. This is perhaps green computing in its purest form, showing how cloud computing can help to create a greener technological future.

At SpiderGroup, we say cloud computing is green computing, and as it seems the cloud is here to stay, we think it can only get greener.

Does green computing matter to your business? Do you even care about being environmentally friendly? Let us know by leaving a comment.

This guest post was written by Kerry Hale from SpiderGroup.


john's picture

As a freelancer, I don't think the cloud has made me any greener. If anything, probably the opposite.

I still use my powerful laptop, but now I also have the added power consumption of cloud backup, email and calendar services. Plus I bought a cheap netbook to use on the move.

What about the environmental benefits of remote working? I used to commute 25 miles each way, five days a week. Now I mostly work from home. Surely that can be one of the biggest benefits of the cloud - if companies embrace it.

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