Last month’s blog series introduced readers to cloud computing, as well as digging deeper into numerous characteristics of the cloud. A particularly interesting aspect of cloud computing is the risks and benefits to the global environment. With the explosive growth of cloud computing in recent years, this is quickly becoming a very heated debate.

One side of the debate sees cloud computing as a massive form of industrialization that uses resources at record rates and consumes enormous amounts of energy to fuel cloud computing needs. The environmental organization Greenpeace recently called attention to the power-hungry cloud computing data sites, estimating that the data centers as a whole consume approximately 620 billion kWh (kilowatts per hour) of electricity. A professor at Stanford University estimated that the cloud is already responsible for 1-2% of electricity use in the world. That is an energy consumption slightly higher than the entire nation of Iran! This is a huge amount of energy that wasn’t being used before the evolution of cloud computing, and could have adverse effects on our environment in the future.

On the other hand, there is a strong belief that sharing cloud computing facilities and the resources that they have to offer will increase energy efficiency and benefit the environment. A report issued by the Carbon Disclosure Project found that cloud computing can reduce energy consumption, lower carbon emissions, and decrease the costs of IT resources, while also increasing operational efficiency. The major argument here is that using cloud computing centers is much more energy efficient than each individual company using traditional data centers. It takes a lot of energy to run and cool the servers involved in data centers, and pooling all of the servers together can reduce a lot of wasted energy. The study estimates that companies can achieve annual energy savings of $12.3 billion and reduce carbon emissions equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil by using the cloud.

A major problem with determining the green benefits of cloud computing is pinpointing its effects on the environment. Currently, there isn’t any hard data to support the argument that cloud computing is in fact a green business practice. There is no uniform way to measure the efficiency of the cloud and know for sure how ecofriendly it is.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe that the environmental benefits outweigh the risks in the shift towards cloud computing?

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