Accenture and WSP Environment & Energy — a global environmental and sustainability consultancy – have produced a report for Microsoft into the environmental impact of cloud computing. It’s called Cloud Computing and Sustainability: The Environmental Benefits of Moving to the Cloud and the idea was to assess the environmental impact of cloud computing by comparing the energy use and carbon footprint of Microsoft cloud offerings compared with the on-premise versions.
The analysis focused on three Microsoft applications that can be supplied on-premise or via the cloud; Exchange, SharePoint and Dynamics CRM. The comparison was made on a per-user basis and considered three different deployment sizes—small (100 users), medium (1,000 users) and large (10,000 users).
The study found that, for large deployments, Microsoft’s cloud solutions can reduce energy use and carbon emissions by more than 30%. For small deployments, energy use and emissions can be reduced by more than 90%.
But the report points out that several key factors make the lower energy use possible:
• Matching server capacity with actual demand through Dynamic Provisioning.
• Avoiding load peaks by serving large numbers of organisations and users on shared infrastructure (since they won’t all have peak usage at the same time).
• Higher server utilisation rates.
• Using advanced data centre infrastructure designs that reduce power loss through improved cooling, power conditioning, etc.
The report also flags up issues around embedded carbon in hardware, tailored hardware components, and application code and configuration, all of which can be contributing factors to cloud computing’s environmental advantage.
The Executive Summary of the report goes on to say that although large organisations can address some of these factors, providers of public cloud infrastructure are best positioned to reduce the environmental impact of IT because of their scale.
This is a useful report in the way it lays out very clearly where the potential environmental advantages of cloud computing are. However, the benefits may be true for Microsoft’s offerings, but will not all apply for all cloud providers in all circumstances, so it’s not quite as black and white as the report sometimes seems to imply.
To be fair, the Summary of Findings does say “Note that, because Microsoft applications and data centres were the basis of the study, the specific carbon reductions from running other applications from other software providers on a cloud model may vary. However, the trends shown here are instructive and may be used as directional indicators for decision makers in corporate IT and sustainability leadership positions when considering a switch to cloud computing with any provider”.
Bear that in mind when reading the report.