Software companies may find cloud transition painful, energy-wise

Symantec's latest sustainability report shows as more software is delivered via the Internet, developers must monitor data center electricity consumption carefully.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Most readers here at SmartPlanet will know Symantec as a provider of computer security technology and protection. What you might not realize is that the company will rely more and more heavily on cloud services to deliver those capabilities. In a way, if you think about it, computer security software companies have been "in the cloud" for years, since that's how all those downloads and patches are delivered to your personal computer.

Since I just wrote about the corporate sustainability and social responsibility mindset of another big software company, Microsoft, I felt it would be valuable to spend some time with the 2010 Corporate Responsibility Report released this week by Symantec. Especially since both are talking up the cloud big-time as the future delivery mechanism for their products.

First, a definition, because companies and the media tend to be loosey-goosey about using sustainability and corporate social responsibility in very broad terms. (Guilty as charged.) Symantec's specific take is that corporate responsibility is "the way in which we operate with full attention to and respect for ethics, the environment and a commitment to positive social impact."

So, in that context, there are many things in the report aside from simple statistics related to Symantec's carbon emissions and energy usage. But that's what I zeroed in on, because I was curious as to how that push into the cloud has affected this area.

Lo and behold, Symantec posted a 4 percent increase from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010 precisely because of the data centers needed to support its application hosting and data storage services. Symantec writes: "As these are both very energy-intensive services, it will be very difficult for us to reduce electricity use at our enterprise data center while we grow this aspect of our business. Nonetheless, we remain committed to energy efficiency and to minimizing our company's GHG emissions."

Symantec DID actually reduce its absolute global emissions by 11 percent compared with fiscal year 2008, if you take out the data center impact. You'll see the company set new goals during the upcoming fiscal year taking this into consideration. It will also consider ways to track energy consumption at the submeter level in its labs and data centers.

I'll be watching closely to see how Symantec manages these goals. It certainly will not be alone in this painful transition, as more software developers declare the cloud their preferred delivery method. Maybe one way to help evaluate the environmental impact of cloud might be to look not only at the data center but also to consider the product footprint for creating CD media, packaging, shipping and disposing of same. Even though your data center footprint is bound to grow absolutely, at least initially, there is certain to be an offset elsewhere.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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