"OK, cloud computing is green. So what?" asked InfoWorld contributor Dave Linthicum in a recent Cloud Computing blog post. It's a valid question, certainly, one that can be asked about any technology deemed "green" by a vendor or pundit. My brief answer: Plenty.
Dave drew on a report released by Greensuite that analyzed the benefits of Netsuite's SaaS (software as a service) offerings compared to running applications in-house. Dave focused most closely on the finding that effectively outsourcing one's applications (or other IT resources, à la Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud Web services) results in having less IT hardware running in-house. That, in turns, means a reduced carbon footprint, thanks to lower power consumption. His overall point: Focusing on the green advantages of cloud computing distracts from its "true holistic benefits," namely "better utilization and efficiencies for IT and, thus, the business."
I agree with Dave to a degree: Investing in any product or business practice simply because it's better for the environment is a recipe for disaster. Yes, replacing the corporate jet with a corporate 10-speed would put a healthy dent in your company's carbon footprint. It would cut costs on fuel. It would keep CXOs fit and trim. But overall efficiency (along with personal hygiene) would plummet. Greener isn't always better.
However, my concern with Dave's argument is that he relegates the green advantages of cloud computing to a mere by-product, implying it shouldn't even factor into a company's decision to embrace the technology. The problem may be that Dave is narrowly defining "green" as "CO2-reducing." Yes, I could see a CEO's eyes glazing over if you opened up a proposal for new tech initiative with something like, "This technology will help us cut carbon emissions equal to taking 1,236 Hummers off the road for a year." But if you frame green as a means of saving money through cost and waste reduction -- an accurate assessment -- it can become a compelling bullet point in a proposal to invest in a new technology.
[ Green premiums can come at a price. Is being green worth it? ]