Can cloud help businesses go green?
June 15th, 2015
Cloud computing is more widespread than ever. 84% of businesses in the UK have adopted cloud in some form and 78% have formally adopted two or more cloud services in their business.
But although flexibility, cost reduction and scalability are the most common reasons for utilising the cloud, what is often overlooked is its ability to reduce energy consumption and run a greener IT operation. With policy and customers taking a harder stance on carbon emissions and rising energy prices, many businesses are now looking at ways of running a more sustainable operation – and the cloud is potentially a modern and efficient way of doing so.
How does the cloud help green businesses?
1. Resource reduction
Deploying a cloud-based infrastructure allows a single physical server to run multiple operating systems concurrently. With less equipment needed to run workloads, you can proactively reduce data centre space whilst also reducing your electricity running costs.
2. Shared resources & energy costs
Cloud providers have the expertise to carefully control the temperature and humidity in the data centre required to keep servers at peak performance. You will no longer need excessive machinery in-house to properly cool your equipment, and punishing fluctuations in energy costs can be mitigated.
3. Pay per-user, per-month model
As cloud services providers typically bill on a pay-as-you-go model this encourages users to only consume what they need. The scalability of the cloud means not only can customers increase their cloud capacity when needed, but they can also decrease it as well – lowering their impact and power consumption.
4. Energy-saving technology
Some large cloud service providers will have energy-saving equipment which would not be viable for small businesses to run, due to their cost and operation size. Thanks to the economies of scale though, growing businesses can gain easy access to this greener hardware without having to break the bank.
What are the obstacles for SMEs adopting the cloud in order to go green?
Obviously, the cloud isn’t a silver bullet for every business and its operations. However, in many circumstances, particularly in the SME arena, it’s a good fit and allows businesses access to big business solutions without the associated price tag.
The main obstacles include:
- Specific applications don’t work well over a long line. This is due to latency sensitivity or the costs associated with the bandwidth required.
- The speed and availability of broadband technology. A hindrance to small to mid-sized businesses, based in rural areas, without significant budgets.
- Some large industrial areas don’t have a suitable infrastructure to run high connection speeds. This can be down to aluminium wire or oversubscription.
These obstacles can be difficult to overcome if you don’t the budget to run a leased line in from a point of presence to a considerable distance away. You could bundle together (bond) a number of xDSL type circuits together, and in some circumstances, this may be acceptable, as long as the investment stacks up. If you don’t go cloud then you can get cloud-ready. Start by rationalising applications, and virtualising servers and applications. If you go down this road, it’s unlikely the investment will be a waste.
How can an SME tell if their cloud provider is truly green?
It’s important to remember that data centres themselves run on a huge amount of power. There’s no single technology or initiative that makes a cloud provider green. It has to be a mix. Some factors include off-setting carbon, water conservation in the data centre, access to public transport so staff don’t need to drive, recycling as much as possible, and innovative cooling and heating recovery systems. ISO 14001 does demonstrate a commitment to improving efficiency and reducing wastage within a business from an environmental perspective. However, it doesn’t certify that a company is green in any way.
Being carbon neutral is a relatively significant undertaking that does demonstrate that a business is taking being green seriously. This really is the base standard for a green cloud in my opinion. Typically a third party calculates carbon usage that facilitates a suitable offset vehicle. For example, investment in a CO2 or methane capture project or simply just planting trees.
This is all very well and good but to really be green, I believe the business, particularly the data centres running the cloud platforms, need to be built to be highly efficient. If your business’s top priority is to be as green as possible then ask your cloud provider how they’re powering their data centre to establish whether migrating to the cloud is truly going to help reduce your carbon footprint.
What does the future hold?
The cloud can be greener going forward. To some extent, this will just happen naturally due to rising energy costs. Many providers tag the green badge onto what was is effectively a cost reduction strategy. Old data centres using old technology and facilities will be more expensive to run than new purpose-built, efficient ones. Due to the huge costs involved in powering and operating these facilities, it’s fairly obvious to identify a return on renovation or new build.
Data centre are being moved to colder regions of the planets to reduce the cost of cooling. Alternatively, some data centres in sunnier climates now use solar panels to reduce the chargeable power from the grid.
Obviously, virtualisation is still the big word throughout the IT sector. The more servers you can run on a single piece of hardware using the least power, the better the profit margin too. It’s that simple. Of course, you can also get a big tick in the green box too. Power costs, cooling costs – no business wants to pay for either.
Don’t forget, going green doesn’t just stop at deploying the cloud. There are many other initiatives your business can take part in:
- Proactive recycling.
- Educating employees about their carbon footprint and ways they can reduce this.
- Being energy-conscious with utilities, e.g. heating, lighting, electricity.
- Managed print solutions to help to reduce paper and resource wastage.
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