Can Cloud Computing Cut Carbon Emissions?

Want to go green? Leverage cloud computing. Or so says Microsoft in a new piece of research through which the software giant reported that moving apps to the cloud can dramatically cut carbon emissions.

According to a recent study commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by solution provider Accenture and WSP Environment and Energy, businesses that run applications in the cloud can reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by about 30 percent or more compared to running those same applications on their own on-premise infrastructure.

Using their own data centers as an example, Microsoft said large data centers benefit from economies of scale and operational efficiencies beyond what enterprise IT departments can achieve. And when it comes to small businesses moving to the cloud, the research revealed that net energy and carbon savings can sometimes hit more than 90 percent.

Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist, said the increased productivity, reduced costs and lower management overhead of cloud computing and cloud products, now coupled with the environmental benefits, illustrate the true value of the cloud.

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"The cloud has the ability to deliver business value for customers in an age where corporate responsibility is critical to business success," Bernard said in a statement.

The study focused on three Microsoft apps for email, content sharing and CRM and found that the cloud version of those applications can significantly reduce carbon emissions. And, while the research was conducted using Microsoft apps, the software giant added that "similar advantages can be observed across many applications and cloud service providers."

Examining three distinct deployment sizes -- 100, 1,000 and 10,000 users -- the study looked at the carbon footprint of server, networking and storage infrastructure and found that the smaller the company the larger the benefit of going with the cloud. When a 100 user organization moved to the cloud, the effective carbon footprint reduction could be up to 90 percent because of a shared cloud environment and no local servers.

Meanwhhile, companies with 1,000 users had savings ranging from 60 percent to 90 percent. And large companies, had savings that was typically around 30 percent to 60 percent on energy consumption and carbon emissions for cloud applications. Microsoft cited one large consumer goods company that reduced carbon emissions by 32 percent by moving 50,000 email users in North America and Europe to the cloud.

"As the data shows, the per-user carbon footprint is heavily dependent on the size of the deployment," the study indicated. "The cloud advantage is particularly compelling for small deployments, because a dedicated infrastructure for small user counts -- as in a small business running its own servers -- typically operates at a very low utilization level and may be idle for a large part of the day. However, even large companies serving thousands of users can drive efficiencies from the cloud beyond those typically found in on-premise IT operations."

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According to the study, cloud computing enables reductions in energy use and carbon emissions by introducing dynamic provisioning, multi-tenancy, increase server utilization and data center efficiency.

"The study's findings confirm what many organizations, large and small, have already discovered: Cloud computing is more economical and IT resources are used more efficiently when business applications such as these are run in a shared environment," said James Harris, managing director of cloud services for Accenture. "That's because, among other benefits, cloud computing delivers multiple efficiencies and economies of scale, which contribute to the reduction of energy consumption per unit of work, thereby helping to significantly reduce carbon."