Is Cloud Computing Really Green?

Fri, Mar 22, 2013

6. Misc.

One of the main benefits of cloud computing – well, aside from convenience – is the fact that it has been touted as an eco-friendly way to store and access all kinds of files and media. And when you think about consumers downloading content rather than purchasing discs with media, not to mention all the manufacturing, packaging, and shipping that comes with them, it does seem like a green alternative to standard consumer goods. What about the people who store entire digital libraries in this manner? Just think about how many trees could have been cut down for paper copies of those books. But before you go shouting about how environmentally responsible cloud storage is, you may want to hold the phone for just a minute. It might not be quite as green as you’ve been led to believe. Let’s see if we can crack the code and separate the fact from the fiction.

On the plus side, cloud computing and storage does have the ability to significantly reduce the amount of manufacturing that goes into common forms of entertainment like books, music, movies, games, and more. When people can conveniently download, store, and access these items from any device thanks to the cloud, why would they opt for more cumbersome and expensive options? In addition, it allows companies that would otherwise house tons of computer equipment and buy all kinds of software to totally change their mode of operation on this score. Right? Well, there is some credibility to this argument; software can now be downloaded digitally rather than ordered as a hard copy, potentially reducing some manufacturing. But where companies may be able to rid themselves of the burden of maintaining finicky hardware (the massive electrical draw to run the machines, not to mention the frigid temperatures required to keep them from overheating), the truth is that they’re really just passing the mantle to someone else.

So what about the server farms needed to make cloud computing a possibility? Don’t they require just as much equipment as a given company (or more) in order to provide the storage, speed, and security needed to make the operation viable? Is hosting the cloud really greener? In truth, it certainly can be. Even though these warehouses full of servers have tons of equipment drawing power and requiring climate control, keeping them all in one place (rather than spread amongst several office buildings or even private homes) allows for a consolidation of sorts. When only one facility needs to be kept cool instead of several, the power consumption required is reduced, often dramatically.

Another great thing about cloud computing is that the hardware need not draw energy idling like many corporate setups that remain on around the clock, ready to be used. Cloud-based servers, on the other hand, are managed in such a way that systems that aren’t needed may be temporarily disabled as a way to cut wasted energy usage. In short, these data centers are simply more efficient than most offices. So while there are no doubt plenty of infographic examples of why you shouldn’t opt for the cloud as a way to assuage your eco-sensibilities, the truth is that over time this platform only stands to become more and more eco-friendly as more people make the switch.

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