Study: The Cloud Could Save 87 Percent of Energy Used in Business


In the United States alone, businesses today use 87 million business email apps, 59 million productivity software apps – such as e-procurement or supply chain management software – and 8 million CRM software apps.

All of that software creates data, and the data has to exist somewhere. A new study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says an awful lot of it lives in inefficient local data centers. So much, in fact, that the lab recently estimated we might “save up to 87 perecent of IT energy use – about 23 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually” by moving business computing to the cloud.

That’s enough to power Los Angeles for a year.

Study Runs Counter to Criticism of Large Data Centers

The study, done in partnership with Google, set out to determine what effect, if any, the Internet has on the environment.

Some critics have complained that large data centers are electricity hogs, using an estimated 1 to 2 percent of global power. The Berkeley Lab, while not playing down that fact, says the emergence of cloud computing promises to reduce global energy demand “in the near future.”

“The primary advantage of cloud data centers is that they leverage virtualization and scalable computing strategies to maximize the utilization of servers, which  drastically  reduces  the  number  of  servers  needed  to  provide  digital  services  when compared to traditional local data centers,” the researchers wrote.

“Cloud data centers are also typically engineered to minimize the energy needed for infrastructure systems  (i.e., cooling and power provision systems) … Combined, high server utilizations and low [power utilization effectiveness values] have made cloud computing the new standard for best practice data center energy efficiency.”

Fewer Server Closets = Greater Savings

To come up with its findings, the Berkeley Lab created a systems model to examine how the cloud affects different technological aspects, such as data center energy use, waste management energy use and manufacturing energy use. The researchers gathered data on the number of business emails, productivity software and CRM software currently based out of local data centers. They found the majority of the servers used were either server rooms or server closets.

Because of the large number of individual servers used, the majority of the savings would come from transitioning from multiple, inefficient data centers to fewer, more effective cloud data centers. Cloud centers conserve energy by running with fewer servers and minimizing the need for powering infrastructure systems such as cooling.

Cloud-related Energy Savings Only One Reason to Opt for Hosted Solutions

So the bottom line in this study is that cloud computing saves energy, which presents one good reason to opt for SaaS solutions, which typically involve hosting software and associated data in the cloud.

However, the survey barely scratches the surface on the savings to be realized from cloud-based productivity solutions such as warehouse management or expense management.

Let’s take automated fleet management as one example. In addition to the supply chain advantages of total visibility and improved customer satisfaction, cloud-based fleet management allows for more efficient routes, optimized delivery plans, fuel cost tracking and less reliance on paper processes. All those mean less energy used and less pollution emitted.

It’s just one more indicator that, yes, the Internet is good for the environment.