If you’re thinking about making the jump to the cloud, it's likely you’ve heard the buzz online about the many benefits that come with switching: economies of scale enhanced cost savings, simplified IT maintenance, increased mobility, flexibility, and improved computing power, just to name a few. There is, however, an accolade that is often overlooked regarding the potential of the cloud: the environmental benefits.

Despite being overlooked, the value of greener IT is among the most multifaceted benefits of the cloud platform. In today’s global economy, one can hardly doubt that a paradigm shift in public perception of companies and their role in environmental responsibility has occurred. The results of this shift are manifest as more and more businesses opt to ‘go green.’ This shift toward the ‘green’ mindset can also be attributed to the very real concerns of business owners regarding their energy consumption, and its impact on both the environment and their chequebooks.

You may have questions like, “Is cloud computing truly as green as they claim?” or, “How will this actually reduce the carbon footprint of my company?” If you have these questions or others, read on, and put your mind at ease, as the environmental benefits of transitioning to the cloud are undeniable.

The Multi-Tenant Factor

While a company is storing its data and software needs on-site, within its own servers and computers, an alarming amount of energy is being consumed—and often going to waste. When a company opts for an on-sight solution, they are required to have a server in their office that runs year round, draining power, and increasing their carbon footprint, even when not directly in use.

Upon cursory glance, it may appear that transitioning to the cloud would have little impact of environmental significance, merely serving to offload the load of your power consumption onto another company at the cost of a subscription fee. This, fortunately, is far from the case, with claims of a greener future being a legitimate selling point of cloud platforms, thanks largely to what we like to call ‘the multi-tenant factor.’

The same economies of scale that drive down the price of IT for cloud computing providers afford them the ability to serve the same number of customers—just at a fraction of the energy use and carbon footprint. This is easily explained. Whereas a business might have one or more servers which carry out the functions of said business, cloud data centres make use of a server pool, from which hardware bandwidth can be distributed to software, businesses, and users as needed. Thus, the energy drained by the servers can optimally be distributed to maximize efficient use of the energy.

One study on the subject pointed to the benefits of this transition as it pertained to the size of the business considering the jump to the cloud, finding that a medium-sized business can expect energy and carbon emissions as a result of their IT to decline by 60-80%. Additionally, the study found that this effect was likely to be even more dramatic in small businesses, with the study showing potential energy and carbon reductions of over 90%.

Raw Material Savings

There is a collaborative effort on the part of businesses across North America to do more sustainable business and produce less waste. The push toward cloud computing can be seen as a part of this push toward more waste-free business operations. Companies making use of cloud services avoid a great deal of waste produced in the manufacturing and distribution of the servers, components, and the raw materials necessary for producing them.

Much like the reduction in carbon emissions seen with the multi-tenant factor, the switch to cloud computing doesn’t just offload your raw material server needs to the cloud provider, as data centre consolidation reduces the amount of physical servers occupying rack-space. By making use of skinless servers, blade servers, and other technologies of the sort—in addition to the less equipment needed for monitoring the system and workflows—cloud providers are able to build well-planned servers and containing data centres, requiring significantly less raw materials.

Cloud providers are taking the lead in reducing the impact of technology on the environment, with virtualization, efficient data centres, and technological innovation leading to more sustainable IT. Ultimately, using a cloud provider in place of traditional servers can result in an overall server space and raw material reduction of 20-30%.

Greener by Design

So what makes the cloud green? That’s easy: Scale! When enterprises stop building their own new data centres every time they run out of capacity, and instead turn to their cloud providers, they can save millions a year in infrastructure, raw materials, and power needed to support the numerous servers (which they will then use inefficiently). In a report commissioned by Microsoft, and written by Dr. Peter Thomond, it was reported that if 80% of businesses adopted the cloud as their platform of choice, the world would see global greenhouse gas emissions drop by a conservative 4.5 megatons. That’s the equivalent of 1.7 million cars leaving the roads for good!

These modern cloud data centres achieve this by making use of the latest and greatest in efficient technology, using the best in computer cooling technologies, reducing their carbon production. There’s no doubt that using the cloud is the right step in the green direction, and by sharing servers, cloud companies are able to do more, while using less—both in terms of power and raw materials.

Beyond the Moral Good: Monetary Benefits and Improved Public Image

Monetary Benefits

Beyond the energy and raw materials, the savings is the most desirable result of these benefits: monetary savings. When a business—especially a small to medium sized one—switches to the cloud rather than paying the cost of purchasing, running, and servicing their own in-house machines, the benefits are immediately evident. 

Firstly, when companies commit to the cloud they reap the rare benefit of paying for what they actually use. You may think, “Well I pay for my server, and I definitely use it,” but that misses the point. Often these servers run constantly while seeing active engagement only a small percentage of the time. The result of this is that you are almost certainly paying for more than you use. Thus, with cloud computing, you are afforded the flexibility to use the services you require at a fraction of the costs, forgoing expensive hydro bills in favour of an often considerably lower subscription fee. Further, because the upfront costs of establishing an on-site solution can be so daunting, the transition to the cloud helps companies save further by cutting expensive servers and components out of the picture entirely. The barebones on-site IT required for a business operating in the cloud results in a reduction in the amount of cooling, space, power, and money needed to maintain your IT.

With a cloud service provider, these companies are instead responsible for paying a subscription, which covers all the expenses of running their IT, including cooling, power, space, and security, at a rate which is often considerably lower than the sum of their traditional on-site IT bill. The lowered cost of energy and the elimination of expensive machine purchases dramatically reduces the bottom line of companies who opt to make the switch. Not only does it reduce the capital costs, it also offers users the opportunity to free up their IT staff to focus on projects that generate revenue, rather than focusing on their daily maintenance and security tasks.

Improved Public Image

As technology progresses, global concern regarding the effect of technology on the environment is becoming increasingly undeniable. Today's businesses are expected to contribute to the movement of their markets toward greener technology. As businesses search for additional ways to improve their image as a socially responsible organization, many completely overlook the cloud as one of their possible good deeds. As we explored, using cloud computing results in a decrease in your company’s carbon footprint, and wasteful material usage. Thus, the switch to the cloud can be used to highlight your company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, enabling them to present the image of an environmentally and socially responsible organization.

While not actually costing you more, this transition appeals to your potentially green-minded customers. Thus the savvy businessman, looking to produce the public image of a company committed to the future of the planet, will make use of such an opportunity to improve public opinion, without breaking the bank. Going green has been the general public's conquest of choice in the last decade, and tackling issues like energy consumption and sustainability can be a valuable marketing ploy for those companies making the switch to the cloud.

The case being made for the green benefits of the cloud reveals an opportunity for companies to contribute to the push for a better planet, without being purely altruistic. The cloud presents businesses with the opportunity to reduce much of their energy consumption and carbon output, aiding in the move toward a greener future. There is little doubt that the continued adoption of the cloud will become ubiquitous in the future, with the benefits and advancements of cloud technology and the growing awareness of the need for green industry continuing to drive the platform toward near-universal use. The reality is simple: the more businesses that move away from environmentally taxing on-site solutions in favour of scale enhanced cloud providers, the greener our planet will become.