IDC: Cloud computing could prevent 1B metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2024

The idea of "green IT" has caught on, but its impact over the next few years will depend on the way organizations build datacenters, IDC says.

The world's biggest cloud computing providers have promised to pursue "green IT," and new research from IDC suggests there is a big opportunity to prevent carbon emissions via the adoption of cloud computing. However, the impact that cloud computing could have on overall emissions depends largely on how datacenters are built over the next few years. 

Between 2021 and 2024, the move to cloud computing should, at minimum, prevent 629 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, IDC says. If all datacenters in 2024 were designed for sustainability, as much as 1.6 billion metric tons could be saved.

All told, IDC expects about 60 percent of datacenters to adopt "smarter" sustainability practices by 2024, saving more than 1 billion metric tons of emissions. 

The projection is based on IDC data on server distribution, as well as cloud and on-premises software use. IDC also used third-party information on datacenter power usage, CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour and emission comparisons of cloud and non-cloud datacenters.

Cloud computing can prevent CO2 emissions, given the efficiency gained from aggregating compute resources. Large-scale datacenters, in comparison to discrete enterprise datacenters, can more efficiently manage power capacity, optimize cooling, leverage power-efficient servers and increase server utilization rates. Emissions could be reduced even further if workloads are shifted to locations that optimize the use of renewable energy sources. 

Most of Big Tech has pledged to do their part to reduce carbon emissions. Earlier this year, IBM laid out its plan to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. Microsoft has also reported that net carbon emissions from it and its supply chain would be negative by 2030. Facebook says it will reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2030, too. Amazon say it will reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2040. Google has been carbon neutral since 2007, and it's aiming to run its whole business carbon free by 2030. Meanwhile, Apple is aiming for it and its supply chain to be carbon neutral by 2030.