Cloud Isn’t Necessarily Greenest Option for SMBs

    If you’re assuming that moving your applications to the cloud is going to make your organization more eco-friendly, don’t be so sure. According to a recently released study, moving your apps from a server room to a cloud data center can significantly enlarge your organization’s carbon footprint.

    The study, conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in partnership with WSP Environment & Energy, found that there are so many variables contributing to the environmental impact of data centers run by cloud services providers, that moving to the cloud could just exacerbate the negative impact that larger data centers tend to have on the environment. According to NRDC senior engineer Pierre Delforge, one of the co-authors of the report, cloud data centers are responsible for over half of U.S. server energy consumption, and half of that consumption is wasted due to sheer ignorance or the absence of conservation incentives.

    Delforge noted that cloud data centers using energy-efficiency best practices, including being powered by renewable energy or efficient natural gas power plants, can lower the carbon footprint of typical SMB server rooms by as much as 97 percent. On the other hand, “brown” clouds that fail to optimize energy efficiency and use electricity from coal-fired power plants can double the size of the carbon footprint of server rooms that have efficient sustainability practices in place.

    Before making the decision to move their applications to the cloud, SMBs need to determine the carbon footprint of their existing server rooms, and take the initiative to obtain full disclosure of the environmental efficiency of their prospective cloud services providers before pulling the plug. According to the NRDC study, the factors that determine the energy efficiency of server computing, listed in order of their impact, include:

    • Server utilization: The degree to which such methodologies as server virtualization are employed.
    • Electricity carbon emissions: The carbon footprint as determined by the source of the electricity powering the data center.
    • Power usage effectiveness: The energy efficiency of the facility housing the servers, as determined by such factors as cooling, power distribution and lighting.
    • Hardware efficiency: The degree to which newer, more energy-efficient equipment is employed.

    Bottom line: If a desire to do the right thing by the environment is a factor in your decision on whether to move your applications to the cloud, as it absolutely should be, do your homework first. Your good intentions could make you more of a contributor to the problem than to the solution.

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