Green is a business case, not a by-product

Reducing carbon alone could sway the CEO -- but saving money definitely will

"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."

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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? ]

Consider, first, one of the key benefits of SaaS and cloud computing: Letting someone else host a chunk of your datacenter -- almost certainly more efficiently than you could, thanks to the provider's expertise and economies of scale -- means you'll be using less electricity to power and cool machines. It also means you'll have to invest in fewer servers and other equipment.

By doing more with less, you reap green benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less e-waste -- and, in the process, save money. According to Greensuite's report about the benefits of SaaS, for example, the "power-use reduction results from not having to use power to operate equipment in a server room and from not having to use power for ancillary purposes, such as air conditioning. The reduction can amount to annual electricity savings of more than $10,300 per year."

And let's be honest here: A CEO presented with a request to adopt cloud computing will be swayed by the promise of "significant cost savings through reduced energy consumption and hardware investments" as much as by the promise of "better utilization and efficiencies for IT" -- perhaps more so.

There's also the challenge that companies around the globe face: They're running out of datacenter space, or their local utility can't provide all the electricity they need. All sorts of organizations -- such as InfoWorld Green 15 winners -- have turned to more energy-efficient practices to address the problem, solutions that are far preferable -- faster, cheaper, and, yes, greener -- than building a new datacenter.

Finally, don't underestimate the importance of reduced carbon emissions as an argument in favor of cloud computing. Whether for the sake of corporate stewardship or legislative compliance, organizations around the globe are committing to shrinking their carbon footprints. Add to the business case the fact that cloud computing will help companies reduce carbon emissions associated with IT practices by 10 percent, and you could seal the deal.

[ Datacenters must prepare now for carbon regulations. ]

The bottom line here is that ignoring or dismissing the green benefits of cloud computing (or any other technology) can translate to ignoring or dismissing opportunities to save money and otherwise achieve key corporate objectives. Rather than lumping green benefits with truly unimportant by-products such as "shinier server" or "fitter CEO," highlight them. They may just make the difference between an approved project and a rejected one.

Related content
OK, cloud computing is green. So what?
While cloud computing is green, we need to focus on the more holistic value to the business.

A call to arms: IT must prepare for datacenter regulation
Datacenter operators must unite to prevent senseless regulations limiting CO2 emissions.

IT versus global climate change
With a carbon cap-and-trade system on the horizon and the effects of climate change being felt, IT has a chance to shine.

Are green IT premiums worth the cost?
Organizations that invest in green hardware find that the energy savings, extended product lifecycle, and other benefits.

HP discloses suppliers' CO2 emissions
Company aims reduce carbon emissions throughout supply chain.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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