Even if you didn’t know the first thing about cloud computing, you could be forgiven for thinking that it meant computing that’s as pure as the fluffy, white moisture conglomerations themselves. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. When it comes to the environmental credentials of cloud computing, we’re in a definite grey spot.
Although moving your computing to the cloud (storing your data in remote centralized servers, as opposed to storing your data on servers located inside your office or, even worse, in filing cabinets in your office) will probably offer benefits in energy efficiency and more for your business, some of those benefits will be offset by the increased energy consumption of the people you hire to store that data remotely.
The attempts being made to reduce this imbalance and make both ends of the cloud revolution equally beneficial for the environment is known as green cloud computing, and it may well have an impact on your business in the near future.
The many benefits of cloud computing
Cloud computing offers innumerable benefits for business, which is why it’s growing in popularity and adoption. Some of its benefits include how easy it is to scale up (or, we guess, down), since you can rely on the computing power of your provider’s superservers to make up for the gap, rather than having to physically add servers to your business, which may or may not be possible.
Cloud computing also allows businesses to be much more efficient on multiple fronts. By reducing the need to have multiple electricity-gobbling servers on-site, it lets you be more energy efficient. By allowing multiple employees, potentially in multiple locations, work on documents simultaneously, you can be more labor-efficient. The computing power provided by big cloud storage providers is likely much greater than that you could provide yourself so, lastly, it also tends to make everything just that little bit faster.
Many people also point to the security benefits of cloud computing. It’s a definite point to consider – cloud giants like AWS do indeed have much better security provisions than your IT department – but, as well see in a minute, the security aspect is also one of the strongest arguments against cloud computing at this time.
So what could go wrong?
When it comes to the cons of cloud computing, security is high on the list. It’s thought that big cloud service providers are vulnerable to attack and hacking, which could have an inadvertent effect on your business, even though you personally were unlikely to be the target of the attack.
Other naysayers also point to how cloud storage and the power cloud computing provides makes it much easier – and less visible – to compound inefficiencies, essentially “baking in” problems to systems that reproduce them fast and scale them without a second thought.
Now, there are of course ways to mitigate these threats, by choosing your cloud provider wisely, auditing your systems for efficiency, and perhaps using a tool that allows you to optimize and protect your data when it’s being stored remotely.
Even if you go to pains to take care of other worries, however, an aspect that you’re going to have to take a look at is the green credentials of your cloud provider. Even though the move to the cloud may have allowed you to optimize your energy consumption, if you don’t ensure that your cloud provider is doing the same thing, you’ve really just moved the responsibility, and not solved the problem. If you’ve got a conscience (or a charter of corporate responsibility), this may well become a concern for your business.
How can you improve green cloud computing?
So, what do you need to look out for and what are providers doing to help? Well, much like your business has taken steps to reduce your carbon footsteps and optimize your energy use, you must look for cloud providers who are doing the same. If being environmentally friendly is important to your business – or the public perception of your business – it could be damaging to have critics later find out that even though you’re talking the talk, the companies you outsource to are environmental monsters!
What possibilities can you look for? A lot of the focus revolves around hardware. This can involve the development of more energy efficient machines or research into making those machines without the use of dangerous materials. Both of these steps can help reduce carbon emissions. On a more day-to-day basis, companies are taking steps to reduce energy consumption in their data centres, including moves like recycling the water used to cool their data centres, or ensuring that the energy they do use comes from sustainable sources.
The takeaway message here is that although adopting cloud computing practices can seem like an easy environmental win for your organization, you must ensure that you’re actually helping solve the problem, and not just pushing responsibility further down the line. That’s not as hard as it seems, however, because cloud providers are aware of the problems, and actively looking for solutions they can shout about. Do your research and ensure that your chosen supplier is pulling their weight – it will mean you can sleep easier about your company’s role in the green cloud computing revolution!