Cloud computing has quickly become the latest trend for small and medium sized businesses. Despite sounding like a celestial form of IT, in reality cloud computing offers an off-site solution, resulting in cheaper running costs and more flexibility for businesses hoping to expand.
But what about the environmental implications? Surely the housing of mega servers capable of running data for several companies is going to be worse for the future of the planet? This article explores the environmental impact of cloud computing.
For online companies, having a website which crashes is a fate worse than death. New customers will be deterred from trying again if the site is unavailable on their first visit and existing clients will be given the impression of a shoddy and unprofessional outfit.
For this reason, the majority of firms run their data centres at full capacity around the clock, to ensure there is no chance of the system being overloaded by demand. Research has shown this results in around 90% of the power they gobble up simply being wasted. Only around 6-12% of the energy from the server is used to drive computations; the rest is taken up by keeping everything ticking over and ready to deal with a surge if and when required.
However, it isn’t just the server that eats up unnecessary energy; there are also back-up systems which in many cases are even less eco-friendly. Often powered by generators, they emit diesel fumes which are less than conducive to clean air in the locality.
Because it can only take a nano-second break in power to crash a server, every effort is made to ensure systems are loaded to the max. This often means not just relying on electricity and back-up generators, but also lead-acid battery power and gigantic spinning fly-wheels just to make sure there is no chance of a collapse.
Not just an energy issue
But it isn’t just the fear of the server collapsing which causes such a drain on power.
Servers are often victims of their own efficiency. Because they have the ability to run multiple applications simultaneously without slowing or crashing, many companies have gotten into bad habits. Applications which have not been used are frequently not removed from servers, continuing to demand energy and space even though they are now defunct or have been updated elsewhere with a newer version.
The term in the industry for this kind of server is ‘comatose’. One study found that as many as three out of four servers were comatose, using less than 10% of their processing facility on real computational work.
The other problem is that companies like to insure against the future. Developing and integrating new servers into an existing centre is a large and expensive piece of work. Therefore, rather than simply acquire sufficient facilities for current demand, most companies build in extra capacity so if the company expands, a new server is not required immediately. Whilst this makes good economic sense, it means a server is running, using and eating more power than strictly necessary. In short, an eco-nightmare.
By providing an offsite solution, cloud provides companies with the opportunity to relax about their IT needs and let the experts run this facility on their behalf.
Cloud computing offers companies versatility; the ability to expand their server space as and when they need to, without having to purchase more before they need it. And with a greater number of smaller servers, efficiently cooled, and run to the required capacity – with no comatose units – the energy used is far less. This is simply because there is no need to run the system to the max to prevent the possibility of a crash; the server is utilised on demand, with no ‘idling’.
Research carried out by Google suggested that businesses could save around 60-85% on their energy costs simply by switching to a cloud facility. And of course, the environment impact of using 60-85% less energy speaks for itself!
This may seem like an unbelievable claim but by combining the needs of companies into one central unit, it is possible to save on resources which are only used in emergencies such as the systems for back-ups, failure and emergencies. The demand and need is aggregated across all of the users in the cloud, making the solution far more energy-efficient without having any impact on processing or service.
A cloud provider such as Cheeky Munkey also ensures any environmental impact is further decreased by using servers specifically designed to utilise hardware as efficiently as possible, driving down energy resource and also keeping costs low.
Cloud computing has rocketed in popularity for a number of very good reasons. As well as being cost-efficient, flexible and reliable, it allows firms to reduce their energy consumption and improve their green credentials. Who would have guessed it was possible to reduce the environmental impact whilst increasing capacity and performance?
About the author: Sally Rogers work forCheeky Munkey, a London based IT support company, who provides services to small and medium sized businesses across the UK.
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