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Cloud Computing on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, a good time to consider the impact we make on our earth. How do we use our shared resources? What can we do to protect our earth? There’s another question we’d like to answer, connected to our business processes. Is cloud-based computing a resource-saving way to provide services?

It seems clear that cloud-based services reduce resource usage within companies. Studies from the last few years support this idea. A study from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Microsoft discusses cloud services and energy efficiency. Cloud services can offer 20 times more efficiency than traditional services. Some cloud services include e-mail, customer relationship management, and groupware application services. Small and medium-sized business can save about 60% by using cloud services. Those potential savings show how inefficient it can be for an SMB to use an on-site server. Studies conducted by the Cloud Energy and Emissions Research Model. show the possible effects of using the cloud on a large scale. If all US businesses used the cloud, the energy saved would be enough to power Los Angeles for an entire year.

How does using the cloud generate these savings? In part, the savings come through economies of scale. Think about how Wal-Mart operates. Wal-Mart centralizes its inventory processes. If Wal-Mart wants to order paper towels, they order in bulk. This brings down the cost per unit. Lower costs for Wal-Mart means lower costs for consumers. 

A cloud host cuts costs for consumers in the same way. Cloud hosts order massive amounts of hardware and software. Smaller businesses cannot buy the necessary equipment at the low price the cloud host can. Additionally, cloud providers become experts at providing services. This frees up the resources of small businesses. Small businesses can outsource their cloud computing to a cloud provider. This also allows for a “pay as needed” model. Each company pays for what it needs, rather than letting capacity going unused.  

Another advantage of cloud services is security. The cloud host is an expert at providing security. An individual company may not be able to afford or support security on the same level. 

Back to Earth Day, though: what effect do cloud services have on the environment? The massive amounts of hardware used by cloud hosts demand a lot of electricity. Data centers use 1-10% of the US’ total energy, according to current estimates. This percentage will likely increase, with the increase of mobile data usage. Data centers are, reportedly, aware of the trend. Some data centers are moving to renewable energy use. 

Replacement and retraining cost is another factor. This affects resource allocation in a company, and affects the environmental considerations. Businesses may not transfer completely to cloud-based services and storage. These businesses may continue to use an external hard drive to back up files. This would negate many of the environmental benefits of the cloud. Other businesses might make a full transition to the cloud. These businesses might discard their old hardware.

Some overlap may occur between hard drive storage and cloud storage. This will lessen the energy efficiency of cloud storage. Long term, cloud storage may prove to be a protective force for the environment. As more businesses transition to cloud storage, the effect will increase. Meanwhile, cloud hosts will seek opportunities for efficient energy use. 

At Tax1099.com, we use cloud storage. We promote responsible use of our earth’s resources. E-filing to the IRS reduces the amount of paper used to submit forms to the IRS. We also encourage electronic vendor form delivery. We, like our cloud hosts, want to make steps in the right direction, protecting our earth.