Despite providing insights that usually lead to energy savings and cost savings, few companies have measured and reported on their carbon footprint.
Part of the problem is capturing the data and solutions such as SAP Carbon Management certainly help there. But another issue is that business processes continually change with raw materials sourced from different suppliers in different geographies and manufacturing moving around the globe to whichever location has the necessary capacity at the right price.
Every time something changes, it’s back to the drawing board to remeasure the carbon emissions involved in the new process. Well, if the boffins are right, businesses are about to change again with the seismic shift of enterprise computing into the cloud. So exactly how green is cloud computing?
Today, companies typically operate one or more dedicated data centers hosting a battery of servers. But is it greener to buy subscription services from different cloud vendors or even establish your own private cloud?
As I mentioned a few posts back, so far companies have adopted cloud solutions to save time to market and avoid costly upfront capital investments in infrastructure. To date, there has not been much mention of ‘green-ness’ as a reason for stepping into the cloud. However there is evidence to suggest that sustainability is a valid reason for abandoning on premise and making the leap into the cloud.
A study commissioned by the Carbon Disclosure Project and carried out by independent analyst firm Verdantix, used detailed case study evidence from 11 global firms to assess the financial benefits and potential carbon reductions for a firm opting for a particular cloud computing service. Their findings suggest that if US companies with turnover in excess of US1bn were to spend 69% of their infrastructure, platform and software budgets on cloud services then by 2020 they would reap energy savings of $12.3 billion and carbon reductions equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil — enough to power 5.7 million cars for one year. That’s big.
Even moving a single HR application to the public cloud could save one of these companies $12 million over five years and cut CO2 emissions by 30,000 metric tons, the equivalent of getting 5900 cars off the road for a year. A private cloud could save them $5 million over five years and cut emissions by 25,000 metric tons, the equivalent of 4900 fewer cars on the road for a year, which while not quite as impressive is still a big win.
But why is cloud computing likely to be ‘greener’? Well the report suggests it’s all down to economies of scale and efficiencies, the like of which single company can enjoy:
- Data centers used by cloud providers can be designed to take advantage of the latest breakthroughs in efficient power and cooling – and can be located to make best use of green energy.
- The IT equipment used by cloud providers can be more energy efficient, using 60% and 70% of the servers’ capacity as opposed to the 5% to 10% utilization rates still found in many corporate data centers, virtualization notwithstanding. Today the only sector that gets anywhere near these figures is banking with everyone else struggling to get into double digits.
So although reducing the carbon footprint of IT is not the be all and end all of sustainability, this report does suggest yet another reason for stepping into the cloud – and a very altruistic one at that.