Microsoft-backed research suggests big energy reductions from cloud

Summary:The energy implications of cloud computing are a big elephant in the server room.As huge services companies -- including software giant Microsoft -- start delivering more computer power and applications via the Internet, it seems only logical that the direct energy costs for the businesses using their services would go down.

The energy implications of cloud computing are a big elephant in the server room.

As huge services companies -- including software giant Microsoft -- start delivering more computer power and applications via the Internet, it seems only logical that the direct energy costs for the businesses using their services would go down. After all, when a company outsources its data center or software applications, the electricity used to power them is no longer a core facilities cost. Of course, at the same time, the companies delivering those services on your behalf will take on more and more data centers and related energy to orchestrate same. Which is one reason why the like of Microsoft Google, IBM and Hewlett-Packard have been scrambling around to make their own data center operations much more energy efficient over the past five years. If the cloud is coming, then they need to make sure it doesn't whack out their energy consumption.

But this post isn't about them. At least not yet. This post is about what your business could potentially save in direct energy costs by moving to cloud computing.

Because it has a vested interest in the topic as it beefs up its own cloud offerings, Microsoft commissioned a research project to quantify the impact. Its analysis was conducted in collaboration with IT consulting firm Accenture and corporate sustainability advisor WSP Environment and Energy. "The question we were seeking to answer is what happens when people unplug their data centers and plug into the cloud," says Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist for Microsoft.

The resulting report, called "Cloud Computing and Sustainability: The Environmental Benefits of Moving to the Cloud," suggests that large businesses could reduce their direct energy consumption and carbon emissions by up to 30 percent by moving certain on-premise applications into the cloud. The impact on smaller companies was even more profound: energy use and emissions can be reduced by up to 90 percent by using the cloud instead of an on-premise IT infrastructure approach.

Of course, as you might expect, the scenarios explored by Accenture and WSP Environment and Energy in the study focused on Microsoft applications: specifically, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. There were three different use cases explored in the study: one with 100 users, one with 1,000 users, and one with 10,000 users. The results are focused on analytical modeling specific to the United States and Europe; results for other regions might vary because of energy costs in different regions.

The study found that some of the core operational benefits that get thrown around about cloud computing also happen to carry some of its biggest environmental benefits. They are:

  • Dynamic provisioning, which ensures that server resources are matched to actual need
  • Multi-tenancy, which makes for flatter peak loads (which can drive big energy costs)
  • Server utilization, which means you get better use out of the hardware
  • More efficient data center designs with advanced cooling and power conditioning technologies

Even though this study focuses on Microsoft applications, pretty much anyone in the business of offering applications via the cloud (Salesforce.com? Google? Netsuite?) has got to love this study, as I'm sure the energy question will increasingly become a factor in procurement choices -- and in the cloud versus on-premise discussion.

Big high-tech companies are bound to feel some growing pains as their data centers take on that capacity. Symantec's recent corporate sustainability report reveals that its data center energy consumption was up approximately 4 percent in the last year, precisely because it is handling more services via the cloud on behalf of its customers.

As the cloud transition begins, the data center energy efficiency message of your chosen cloud providers needs to be clear and you need to ask about it. And that goes for all the smaller managed services providers offering hosted versions of Microsoft applications.

The time for ignoring data center energy efficiency is past and you should demand to know the numbers.

Topics: Cloud, Hardware, Microsoft, Servers, Virtualization

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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