The growing popularity of cloud computing technologies triggered many discussions about the benefits of using public cloud. Besides reducing costs and increasing efficiency, cloud servers are also known for their positive environmental influence. However, the most recent study on cloud’s ecological benefits points out that cloud servers are not always the most environmentally friendly solution.
One of the key findings of the study carried out by WSP Environment and Energy, LLC and Natural Resources Defense Council is that there are scenarios where on-premise servers may be as environmentally friendly as those in cloud. Cloud servers are used by a large number of customers at the same time and this leads to significant energy savings and reductions in carbon emissions but not in all companies. However, SMOs can achieve similar energy savings even without cloud provider.
David Symons, Director of WSP Environment & Energy, said: “This is a really important piece of research for companies wanting to reduce their emissions and become more energy efficient. There are many reasons for moving to cloud computing, but a company choosing to do so for pure energy efficiency reasons needs to look closely at their whole IT set up as well as those of third party offerings. Not all clouds are created equal. An on-site server room that is run with energy efficiency best practices may be a greener alternative to a ‘brown cloud.”
Some companies such as Google, Microsoft and Salesforce.com have released reports on energy efficiency of their datacenters that run on clean energy. Still, the major question is whether the same rules apply to SMEs and in which cases. Server farms of the giant companies constitute a half of computing power in US, but the other half belongs to SMOs and this is why NRDC and WSP focused their attention to analyzing cloud application types related to SMOs.
The research included and analyzed five possible models of applications: on-premise servers not using virtualization, externally hosted servers not using virtualization, on-premise servers using virtualization, as well as private and public cloud. The data was gathered from primary and secondary research and the results are represented for each deployment model examined.
Significant differences in carbon emission are noticed between virtualized and non-virtualized servers. Therefore, the SMOs that want to lower their overall carbon footprint should consider virtualizing their IT platform but this doesn’t have to be the only solution. The research points out that cloud servers are not necessarily a better solution for reducing carbon footprint than on-premise datacenters – “a well-managed on-premise server room with no virtualization may be equivalent to a poorly managed cloud service.” Therefore, SMOs should inquire about the exact energy savings for each cloud vendor, because cloud servers differ among themselves.
As pointed out in the study, datacenter energy efficiency can also depend upon the area where it is located. For example, in Midwest US and some Mid-Atlantic states there are high carbon emission factors and the savings won’t be as high as in other low carbon intensity areas such as in the Pacific Northwest.
The findings of the study make it obvious that choosing an appropriate deployment scenario requires considering multiple factors. All the variables will depend on organization’s individual needs and potentials concerning energy savings, so SMOs shouldn’t readily accept the fact that cloud servers are more energy efficient than on-premise ones.