Cloud computing has become a prominent topic in the important conversation about sustainability. When the very first evolutions of “the cloud” began developing in the 1960s, no one could have predicted how widespread its use and functionality would become. What we call the cloud now refers to a vast global network of uniquely functioning servers, much different than the early versions of cloud computing.
Today, our connection to the cloud is omnipresent, from the way we spend and manage our money to the way we consume music and movies. Cloud computing has become the solution for many of the problems that many businesses and consumers need solving by allowing rapid access to servers, storage, applications, networks, and other services. It offers undeniable benefits like instant access to vast networks, secure data storage within cloud storage, reduced costs, increased efficiency and convenience, automation, synchronization, and more.
With research coming out about just how impactful our use of technology has become on sustainability, an important question has emerged: can cloud computing truly be “green”? Cloud computing is one way many businesses and consumers are simultaneously improving their computing capabilities, improving their bottom line, all while making the right environmental decisions.
Although cloud computing companies initially received criticism for their seemingly heavy power demands, newer research has alleviated those initial fears. According to Deloitte Insights, the overall energy use of green cloud computing companies rose a meager 6% between 2010 and 2018, while their output skyrocketed 600% during that time.
The energy required to power a data center within a business is immense. Green cloud computing drastically cuts down on the various energy consumers that come with onsite data centers, including maintenance, electricity, cooling, and the perpetual power supply required to keep it all safe and operational. What began as a way for companies to save on costs and efficiency has resulted in a reduced environmental impact. By switching to cloud computing, companies found their energy consumption dropping and their cloud computing impact on the environment lessening, paving the way for sustainable operations.
Greenhouse gases have been some of the most damaging aspects of our environmental footprint. The growth rate of our emissions is a cause for concern. According to the EPA’s website, estimated worldwide emissions from human activities have increased 43 percent since 1990.
By reducing the energy requirement of having your own data center or any of the predecessors to cloud computing, companies can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In order to construct and operate a data center and all of its equipment, for example, an enormous amount of materials are required. Each of these pieces of material adds to the emissions through their lifecycle, including the disposal of said equipment when new technology renders it obsolete. Additionally, the surge in demand for cloud capabilities has allowed cloud companies to invest profits toward making the switch to more renewable energy sources.
By using sustainable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower to power your green cloud computing needs, total emissions drop as well as the non-renewable energy currently being used.
Technology innovates at a tremendous rate. 90% of the world’s data (think digital photos, videos, customer data, and more) was generated in the last two years.
According to Moore’s law, computer processing speed doubles every 18 months.
While this is overall a very positive thing, it also means that technology (both hardware and software) becomes obsolete very quickly.
What happens to obsolete technology? Consider that more than 150 million phones are thrown away by Americans every year as a prime example of how quickly consumer technology is made redundant and discarded. Migrating from data centers to greener cloud storage cuts down on waste as out-of-date physical technology doesn’t need to be dumped. This process, known as dematerialization, allows companies to swap out high-cost “materials” for virtual alternatives. Companies can eliminate their old habit of ditching equipment for recently innovated upgrades.
Even when you only take into consideration the impact music streaming has had on the reduction of physical waste in the form of mp3 players, CDs, and the seemingly ancient mediums we used before those; it’s astonishing to what magnitude virtual equivalents are capable of helping the environment and a more sustainable carbon footprint. Moving to the cloud is an important step in reducing the volume of global electronic waste, which is projected to double from 2014 to 2030.
With so much hardware utilized by individual companies’ data centers, another problem arises. Because companies don’t share data center capabilities with other companies, this leads to wasted space. Many data centers are not using their storage properly but still using the full resources to keep them powered. This wasted space and the inefficiency that happens when powering a data center causes considerable pressure to be placed on the environment and undermines sustainability efforts.
One of the positives of using the cloud is the effects of “sharing.” By moving to green cloud storage, companies share space, power, maintenance costs, and other resources. This kind of green cloud computing leads to optimal efficiency through the IT lens. Green cloud companies are capable of using the most leading-edge technologies to maximize efficiency because they are solely focused on their core function.
Customer buying decisions are influencing their chosen businesses to make smarter, greener decisions. In today’s market, many are demanding sustainable practices from those they do business with. As a customer, this means that your green cloud computing buying decision has a more positive impact on the environment.
From the perspective of a business, saving money and resources by moving to cloud computing allows the companies to invest in more environmentally friendly technologies and practices. Cloud computing with green technology fosters an environment in which an upward spiral toward ensuring that cloud computing and sustainability remain hand in hand.
Cloud computing is not without drawbacks. These include internet dependency, data security and privacy issues, and sometimes a prohibitive cost barrier for entry. While cloud computing still carries with it an impact on the environment, the advantages of green cloud computing are a far better alternative than the previous technology.
With these apparent downsides though, consumers and companies are still able to reach a net benefit and an overall better environmental impact through green cloud options. Taking this into account is the key to understanding the cloud’s power. As more and more consumers and businesses are choosing to work predominantly with companies who make environmentally conscious choices, every decision matters.
Rampant energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, material waste, inefficiencies in infrastructure and operations, and the inability to integrate new technology have become symptoms of a dangerous environmental impact that many are keeping an eye on. The benefits of green cloud computing are becoming clearer as the technology advances, and more people make the switch.
Deciding to go “green” by switching to cloud computing is a powerful statement that a company cares not only about its profit but also the impact it has on the environment.