3 Ways Business Cloud Storage Reduces the Carbon Footprint of Your Data Center

by Shirish Phatak on January 3, 2017


What does your company's carbon footprint look like? That's a question that's receiving focused attention world-wide as the effect on our planet of producing and consuming ever greater amounts of energy becomes more apparent. The impact a company's operations have on the environment has become a large part of the face it presents to customers, regulators, and environmental interest groups.

So, here's a question every corporate executive needs to consider: how can your company become a better corporate citizen when it comes to energy consumption? And, secondarily, is it possible that by doing so, you might actually save some money as well?

One of the first places to look for answers to those questions is in your corporate data center. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), data centers are a major source of energy consumption in the United States, accounting for about 2 percent of the energy used in the country. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that production of the electricity consumed by data centers around the world will result in the release of some 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2020. For many enterprises, the power used by their data centers constitutes the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions for the entire organization.

Yet, many corporate executives remain blissfully unaware of the contribution to their company's carbon footprint made by their IT operations. Few of them, especially among the small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that represent the bulk of the problem, are equipped in terms of both technical expertise and available budget, to take the targeted steps required to minimize the environmental impact of their data center operations.

That probably won't change anytime soon. Fortunately, it doesn't have to. The move by more and more companies to consolidate their data in the cloud is providing a great opportunity for both SMBs and larger enterprises to reduce their environmental impact without the significant expense and operational disruptions that would accompany trying to do that job on their own.

Let's take a look at some ways business cloud storage can help to reduce the carbon footprint of your organization's data centers.

Reduces Your Server Power Usage

Data centers are all about servers and the storage units attached to them. Each server consumes a substantial amount of electrical power. Consolidating your data storage in the cloud transfers all that power consumption from your data center to one run by your cloud services provider.

But it's not a one-for-one transfer. Shifting storage from your on-site data center to the cloud can actually reduce the number of servers required for your data. Here's how:

Most companies' servers are running at far below their maximum capacity, often at only 10 to 15 percent utilization. The NRDC estimates that up to 30 percent of them are "zombie" servers that do no useful work at all, but still consume large amounts of power.

Some of this is by design. IT managers often deliberately overprovision their server population to ensure operations won't be disrupted by hardware failures or unexpected surges in demand. Most, however, is probably due to lack of expertise or sheer inattention. Says Jonathan Koomey, a research fellow at Stanford University, "Most data center operators can't even tell you how many servers they have, never mind their utilization."

But for a cloud services provider, ensuring that their server population is used efficiently has a direct impact on their bottom line. By necessity they are focused on maximizing server utilization, which directly translates into fewer servers and less power consumption.

Minimizes The Environmental Impact of Your Data Centers

Shifting data storage into the cloud allows you to reduce both the size and the energy consumption of your on-premises data centers. Several factors contribute to that reduction.

First, data centers are normally oversized to accommodate potential future growth. When servers and storage are shifted to the cloud, present and future space requirements are greatly reduced.

In addition to the power it directly consumes for its own operation, each server is also responsible for a proportional amount of power required for the data center's cooling, heating, ventilating, lighting, telecommunications, security, and other systems. Reducing the number of servers by consolidating storage in the cloud allows a reduction in the power drawn by all these auxiliary systems.

According to the Cloud Business Review, a research project carried out by Google shows that switching to the cloud can save companies between 60 and 85 percent on their energy bills.

Leverages the Natural "Greeness" Of The Cloud

The cloud is inherently green. A report by the Carbon Disclosure Project estimates that the reduction in server hardware achieved by consolidating storage in the cloud will lower annual carbon emissions by 85.7 million metric tons by 2020.

One factor that makes the cloud naturally more environmentally friendly is its multi-tenant architecture that allows several different users to be accommodated on a cloud provider's servers. This further reduces the number of physical servers required. What's more, cloud data centers have been among the most enthusiastic adopters of energy-efficient storage technologies, such as flash memory arrays (solid state disk drives). SSDs provide a more than five-to-one reduction over hard disks in the amount of power they consume.

Overall, the entire ethos of the cloud tends toward resource sustainability. Apple is using a 100-acre solar energy farm in North Carolina to help power one of its cloud data centers. Google employs wind farms, as well as artificial intelligence techniques, to optimize the energy efficiency and sustainability of its data centers.

The global non-profit organization Business for Social Responsibility puts it this way:

"Cloud services make a positive contribution to sustainability: The cloud encourages important clean-tech applications like smart grids, and it also encourages consumers to use virtual services such as video streaming to replace resource-heavy physical products. The cloud also draws resources to where they are used most efficiently, and its jobs tend to be cleaner and safer than those of more traditional industries."

It's Time To Go Green In The Cloud!

Reducing the carbon footprint of your company's data centers is not just an IT issue. It's one that can affect both the reputation and the bottom line of the entire organization. If you're ready to consider how consolidating your data in the cloud can lower your company's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, please download the Talon FAST™ data sheet.

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