According to a study from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), large US companies that use cloud computing will be able to save $12.3bn in energy costs and 85.7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually by 2020. The energy savings are equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil – enough to power 5.7 million cars for one year.
The study ‘Cloud Computing: The IT Solution for the 21st Century’ was conducted by Verdantix and sponsored by AT&T. In-depth interviews were carried out with multi-national firms in various industry sectors who had adopted cloud services for at least two years. Many of those interviewed reported cost savings as a primary motivator, with anticipated cost reductions as high as 40–50%.
The study found that significant non-monetary benefits can also be achieved with cloud computing, including business process efficiency and increased organisational flexibility. As well as the energy and emissions savings, the research found that cloud computing benefits include:
Helping users avoid capital investments in infrastructure
Greater flexibility in resource use
Avoiding the continual maintenance of excess capacity needed to handle short-term demands
Improved automation that helps drive process efficiencies
Paul Stemmler from Citigroup (one of the companies interviewed) commented: “Carbon reduction is one driver, but not the primary driver. The primary driver is time to market. Developers used to take 45 days to get new servers, but in the internal cloud infrastructure that we operate in our own private network, it takes just a couple of minutes.”
The study also found that companies plan to accelerate their adoption of cloud computing from 10% to 69% of their IT spend by 2020.
It’s not always clear whether the comments are about IT services delivered through a cloud or the use of an internal cloud, but either way I don’t think there are any great revelations here. Cloud computing can certainly be more efficient in delivering IT because it can make better use of resources, whether internal or external. As well as cost savings there is a lot more flexibility, which is the basis of all the other benefits mentioned.
But while cloud computing can be more efficient, and hence save power and emissions, it doesn’t mean it always is. Much depends on how much power is wasted in the data centre delivering the service (and the type of energy it uses), as well as things like virtual server sprawl in the IT infrastructure itself.
If you’re primarily looking for cost savings and flexibility then the energy and emissions savings may not be an issue. This research suggests that there will, in any case, be significant environmental gains along the way for the market as a whole. But if energy and emissions are a significant part of the reason to adopt cloud computing, then you really need to look much more closely at how the service is being delivered in order to be sure it really is greener IT.