Apart from its key advantages of increased efficiencies, scalability, redundancy and decreased costs, another significant concept that hails cloud computing today is its potential to operate business applications more efficiently, resulting in a potentially lower environmental impact. This is what makes cloud computing one of today’s IT buzzwords, and there are studies to back this up.
A recent study, titled, “Cloud Computing and Sustainability” from Microsoft (with Accenture and WSP) compared the environmental footprint of running business software internally or with an outsourced provider. The study showed that, compared to running their own applications, by outsourcing companies can reduce the energy use and carbon footprint of computing by up to 90 percent. We could rattle off another dozen reasons why cloud computing should be greener. But is it really?
Network-based cloud computing is rapidly expanding as an alternative to conventional office-based computing. Not only this. Our day-to-day computing activities are also migrating from hard drives to Internet servers. Recently, Facebook came up with a statistic that shows how much new data enters cyberspace on a regular basis. According to the networking site’s count, more than 100 million photos get uploaded to Facebook each day. As cloud computing becomes more widespread, the energy consumption of the network and computing resources that underpin the cloud will grow. Environmental groups are worried that the trend will result in a bigger carbon footprint.
At a time when there is increasing attention being paid to the need to manage energy consumption across the entire information and communications technology (ICT) sector, there has been less attention paid to the energy consumption of the transmission and switching networks that are key to connecting users to the cloud.
Going back to the Facebook example, data that is created and uploaded to websites like Facebook is stored at data centers. In order to keep these data warehouses running and comfortably air-conditioned to prevent overheating, uninterrupted power supply is a must. This can result in some heavy energy consumption. As of now, data centers are responsible for two percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and according to experts, the number will increase in near future.
However, there are companies telling that the growing trend towards cloud computing is making online computing more energy-efficient. An analysis of Pike Research has backed up some of these reported benefits, suggesting that a reduction in the cost of the energy of global data center can take place by up to 38 percent by 2020 because of the extremely efficient cloud computing. But, environmental groups and other skeptics still have doubts with regard to how green cloud computing can truly be.
According to a Gartner report that examined the carbon footprint of the ICT industry, environmentalists are concerned about the industry’s apparent confusion with the difference between efficiency and sustainability. It says that companies need to recognize that energy efficient is not green on its own, and is no longer enough.
Another point to be noted here is none of the cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft or IBM are publishing metrics at all. Is it because companies using cloud computing are simply outsourcing their emissions? Until cloud providers start becoming more transparent around their utilization and consumption numbers, how green is cloud computing it is still a subject to debate.