OK, cloud computing is green. So what?

While cloud computing is green, we need to focus on the more holistic value to the business

In a recent study (PDF) sponsored by SaaS provider NetSuite, it was clear that cloud computing is the tech industry's equivalent of a Toyota Prius hybrid running on biodiesel and that traditional on-premise computing is the Hummer running on baby seals. However, perhaps this obvious argument clouds the real benefits around cloud computing. First, here's what NetSuite's not-exactly-disinterested survey found.

The aggregate reduction in electricity used by NetSuite and its customers is approximately 595 million kWh (kilowatt hours) per year -- the equivalent of the annual electricity consumption of more than 56,000 homes. This results in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by more than 423,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of:

  • CO2 emissions produced by the consumption of more than 48 million gallons of gasoline
  • CO2 emissions produced by the consumption of approximately 985,000 barrels of oil
  • And the yearly pollution caused by more than 77,000 automobiles.

Who does not get that? You have fewer computers serving more users; thus, power consumption goes down. Lower power consumption means fewer kilowatts from the coal plant, thus a better planet. Therefore, if you don't do cloud computing, you hate that planet. So, why do you hate the planet, Mr. CIO?

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I'm not sure that will be an effective argument for cloud computing, and in some cases it will actually be counterproductive. The movement toward cloud computing should not be around looking to cut greenhouse emissions, but around those who are seeking better utilization and efficiencies for IT and, thus, the business. The core benefit is not about lower power consumption, but about a better automated business that's able run more effectively. Being green is really just a by-product.

Clearly, the benefits of cloud computing go well beyond any savings that can be made on the power bill from the datacenter. Indeed, the more effective IT is in support of manufacturing, distribution, and management of products, for instance, the more cloud computing provides a systemic value.

Thus, the danger when making these types of arguments is that people won't see the true holistic benefit of cloud computing as an approach to reinvent their enterprises architecture into a much more agile and effective mechanism for the business. That effort takes some planning, and those that jump into cloud computing focusing on narrow benefits, such as power consumption, will miss the core reasons we're moving this direction in the first place.

It's good to be green, but we need to focus on larger issues.

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