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5 Reasons Why The Cloud Is Environmentally Friendly

In today’s world, the need to “go green” is stronger than ever. “The internet with cloud computing is becoming a big contributor to carbon emissions because of dirty energy usage,” Eirikur Hrafnsson, the founder of Green Qloud, said back in 2012. Now 3 years later, major IT companies have taken note, and are switching the majority of their data centers onto renewable energy sources. Amazon, Google, and Facebook are just a few companies who have made great efforts to be environmentally friendly and set ecological company goals.

With all of the recent buzz about cloud computing, companies have learned that by switching to a public cloud, they can gain flexibility and scalability while simultaneously cutting costs. But what they may not realize is that the cloud not only benefits their workplace, but also, the environment. Managing and processing data on a local server greatly increases carbon emissions.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, data centers now account for 1.5% of all electricity consumption in the U.S. and by 2020, carbon emissions will have quadrupled to 680 million tons per year, which will account for more than the aviation industry.”

With the cloud, not only are fewer servers used, but they are powered efficiently, “reducing the carbon impact on a company’s data center.” VP of Marketing and Sales at Verne Global, Lisa Rhodes, says that “according to the Environmental Protection Agency, data centers now account for 1.5% of all electricity consumption in the U.S. and by 2020, carbon emissions will have quadrupled to 680 million tons per year, which will account for more than the aviation industry.” Cutting down on data centers by switching IT operations to a public cloud provider significantly lowers carbon emissions and electricity consumption.

1. Better Infrastructure

Public Cloud data centers are typically located closer to the facilities that power them to prevent large losses during the process of transmitting electrical energy over long distances. Traditional data centers usually don’t have a choice for location unless the company that builds it has tons of money, like Facebook or Yahoo. Cloud computing data centers also use less wattage to provide back-up power and cooling for their data centers due to superior hardware setup. These data centers are designed at scale and built for efficient energy use to achieve optimal utilization and temperature.

2. Higher Utilization Rate

Conventionally, companies use their own private data centers, which means these companies have low utilization rates due to equipment being purchased and set up in anticipation of server usage spikes. The cloud consolidates machine use, operating servers at high utilization rates, increasing efficiency. When hardware sits idle (the usual case in private data centers), it creates poor efficiency and has negative effects on the environment. However, public cloud servers tend to be 2 to 4 times more efficient than traditional data centers due to highly utilized infrastructure.

3. Hardware Refresh Speed

Traditional Data Center hardware tends to be used for long amounts of time before an upgrade or replacement because of high costs and time spent upgrading servers. Since the hardware in a public cloud tends to have much higher utilization rates than traditional servers, it will likely have a shorter lifecycle, prompting a faster refresh time. It’s also more cost-efficient for public cloud servers to upgrade on a regular basis because new technology brings in better energy efficiency. The more energy-efficient hardware is, the more money the public cloud provider will save, which causes drastically less energy to be used in the long run.

4. Reduced Electricity Use

Traditional data hardware systems are high maintenance, requiring uninterruptible power supplies, cooling, and tons of electricity. Moving basic software programs to the cloud can save electricity immensely. A case study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory projects that moving business software such as email, CRM, and more (on a national scale) to the cloud can save enough electricity each year to power Los Angeles for 12 months. This means the cloud would lower the total energy consumption of these software applications by 87%.

5. Reduction in Climate Impact

Climate impact is greatly reduced by the clouds improvement in energy efficiency as a result of fewer carbon emissions. According to AWS, “the average corporate data center has a dirtier power mix than the typical large-scale cloud provider.” AWS, in combination with other cloud providers, use a 28% less carbon-intense power mix. This also affects climate control costs, since running machines at peak performance levels in perfect temperature is much more expensive. The cloud eliminates this wasteful spending due to the use of energy efficient equipment and fewer carbon emissions.

Mission partner, Amazon Web Services, is a cloud provider working to create more renewable energy opportunities. As a member of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) and the U.S. Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance (US PREF), AWS works with state and federal policymakers to achieve sustainability goals. In addition, Amazon has been planting wind farms around the U.S. that provide renewable energy technologies as the “backbone and power source for both current and future AWS data centers.” Most recently, AWS has contracted with EDP Renewables to create Amazon Wind Farm US Central, in Ohio.

Amazon expects to reach 40% by the end of 2016 and has a long term to commitment of reaching 100% renewable energy usage.

Although the AWS global infrastructure is powered by only 25% renewable energy today, Amazon expects to reach 40% by the end of 2016 and has a long term to commitment of reaching 100% renewable energy usage. “The environmental argument for cloud computing is already surprisingly strong, and I expect that the overall equation will just continue to improve going forward,” says Amazon Chief Evangelist of AWS, Jeff Bar.

The cloud is revolutionizing the IT industry in many ways. Customers consume 77% fewer servers, 84% less power, and reduce carbon emissions by 88% by using the cloud, and there is no denying that its positive impact on the environment is just another one of its many positive attributes.



How do cloud providers manage electronic waste (e-waste) generated from outdated or decommissioned hardware?

Cloud providers are increasingly mindful of the environmental impact of their operations, including how they manage electronic waste, or e-waste, generated when hardware becomes outdated or needs to be decommissioned. Many leading cloud companies have implemented comprehensive recycling and waste management programs to address this challenge. These programs are designed to dispose of or recycle hardware components responsibly, following local and international regulations. Companies often partner with certified e-waste recycling firms to ensure that all materials are handled in an environmentally responsible manner. Additionally, some cloud providers go a step further by refurbishing usable components, extending their hardware's lifecycle and reducing the need for new resources.

What renewable energy sources are most commonly used by cloud providers to power their data centers?

When it comes to powering their data centers, cloud providers are turning to renewable energy sources to minimize their environmental footprint. Solar and wind energy are among the most commonly used renewable sources due to their scalability and decreasing cost. Large-scale solar farms and wind turbines can generate substantial amounts of clean energy, which cloud providers produce directly or purchase through renewable energy credits (RECs) and power purchase agreements (PPAs). This shift towards renewable energy not only helps in reducing carbon emissions but also aligns with global efforts to combat climate change by supporting the development of sustainable energy infrastructure.

Do cloud providers follow any initiatives or certifications to ensure their sustainability efforts are transparent and verifiable?

Many cloud providers adhere to various initiatives and certifications to ensure their sustainability efforts are transparent and verifiable. These include the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), RE100 (a global initiative committing businesses to 100% renewable energy), and the Green Power Partnership, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program encouraging the use of green power to reduce environmental impact. Furthermore, cloud providers often pursue certifications like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for green buildings and the Energy Star rating system for energy-efficient products to demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability. These initiatives and certifications offer a framework for companies to measure, manage, and communicate their environmental performance, ensuring accountability and encouraging continuous improvement in sustainability practices.

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Jamie Morgan

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