Cloud computing, in which a number of data as well as processing are done in the “cloud” rather than at the client, is usually thought of as being in the realm of computer technology.
The defining feature of the cloud is the fact that instead of relying on local servers, it uses a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data. Fast data transfers and real time information updates are two of the reasons why so many see the benefits of moving to the cloud.
Cloud computing contributes significantly to clean technology and a sustainable world.
By having things and doing things on the cloud, the following can be achieved, thus saving energy, hardware, waste, time, and finally of course, energy:
- Reduction in the amount of energy used at client end – as cloud computing works on scales much larger than the individual applications it processes, it significantly optimizes energy use.
- Reduction in the amount of hardware and materials used at client end – Cloud computing, by increasing the capacity utilization of each physical resource it uses (hardware, networking, peripherals…), reduces the average material required per unit task.
- Reduction in the amount of paper used – You can now store most stuff on the cloud and use it from wherever you wish to, without having to carry an annoying amount of paper with you all along.
- Reduction in the fuel used – By having stuff on the cloud, you can access it from anywhere; this can significantly cut down travel and the fuel used for travel.
Estimates suggest that a company could reduce upto 65% of its energy cost spent on computing by shifting to a cloud infrastructure. Other estimates also peg the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that could be saved owing to cloud computing at about 100 million tons per annum. Coupled with the savings in time and also in material use, cloud computing does appear to be an effective cleantech tool, though no one might define it as such.
But not everyone is convinced that cloud computing is a boon for the environment. There are some who question the green credentials of cloud computing. The main reason for this doubt is the enormous amount of energy required to run all these computers and networks that comprise the cloud, and the environmental impact of such use. For instance, it has been reported that the IT industry is responsible for as much greenhouse gas generation as the aviation industry (about 2% of the world’s carbon emissions), with data centers being one of the main contributors for this emission.
Interestingly, only about 10% of the total energy used by these data centers are used for computations; the rest keeps servers running in case of a surge or crash. Now, isn’t this waste of energy too? However, cloud supporters counter that this may be better understood as a necessary evil if data companies are to ensure that they are able to provide reliable service at all times.
I do not have any hard data to decide whether the above energy inefficiencies of the cloud negates the significant savings it provides to the clients on energy and materials. My gut feel is, it does not – cloud computing, on balance, is likely to have a positive effect on the environment and is most likely saving at least a reasonable amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
In the past few years, many data centers worldwide have started getting powered by electricity from renewable energy sources, mainly solar and wind. This is one of the ways the cloud computing industry has responded to the critics – while they may be guzzling a lot of energy, now that energy is at least generated from renewable energy sources and thus not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions!