How Cloud Computing is Green Technology

It’s more efficient, proponents claims

Key Takeaways

  • Cloud computing can be green technology, experts say. 
  • Google has developed a metric that shows how clean the company's cloud regions are around the world.
  • The search giant has said that it wants to only use carbon-free energy by 2030.
A city at night overlaid with a networking grid.
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You might be helping to save the planet by using cloud computing, experts say.

Google has developed a metric that shows how clean the company's cloud regions are around the world. Shifting to cloud computing could slow the growing problem of computing pollution. 

"Reduced power consumption and emissions means we’re basically doing more with less," David Linthicum, the chief cloud strategy officer of Deloitte Consulting, said in an email interview. 

Linthicum added that cloud computing is more efficient than using computers on site. "Aggregated computing and storage resources are motivating enterprises to move from discrete corporate data centers to better utilized and shared resources in public clouds," he said. 

Measuring Clean Energy

Google calls its new metric the Carbon-Free Energy percentage (CFE%). The number shows the average mix of carbon-free and fossil-fuel energy used to power Google's data centers.

The company calculates CFE% for every region based on how much carbon-free energy was produced on the local grid at a specific time. And the company’s numbers show the cloud is cleaner. 

The search giant has said that it wants to only use carbon-free energy by 2030. Most of the largest cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Oracle, have pledged to make their cloud data centers carbon neutral in the coming years. 

"Completely decarbonizing our data center electricity supply is the critical next step in realizing a carbon-free future," Google said in a blog posting.

Screenshot of Google Carbon Free Technology graphic for the Google Cloud Platform.

"On the way to achieving this goal, each Google cloud region will be supplied by a mix of more and more carbon-free energy and less and less fossil-based energy. We measure our progress along this path with our carbon-free energy percentage." 

Using cloud computing could help the environment, Linthicum said. "You can think of it as the way we consume power from the grid," he added.

"While it’s more economical and less polluting to purchase power from a centralized power plant, versus generating it ourselves, we can leverage smart technology in our homes to further optimize what we do with the power that we consume."

How to Make Cloud Computing Cleaner

Cloud computing has to be done the right way to be eco-friendly, argued Roger Andersson, a senior director at the cloud computing company Pensando, in an email interview. 

"It’s not inherently green, but it can be a green approach to computing if done properly by building energy-efficient buildings for cloud data centers that are powered by sustainable energy sources, i.e. wind and solar," Andersson said. 

Andersson said it’s much more sustainable for companies to use a cloud service provider for their computing needs instead of building their own data centers.

"It would use more energy for a company to transport components and run a data center on their own (that might also rely on fossil fuels) instead of doing it via a more efficient cloud service provider," he added. 

Some cloud technology is more efficient than others. Cloud platform developer KloudGin claims its business users can consume resources only when they need them. 

"We load-balance, or 'turn off,' resources when not in use," Vikram Takru, co-founder and CEO of KloudGin, said in an email interview/

Someone using a smartphone on a starry night, with phone, cloud, and map icons in the sky above.
AerialPerspective Images / Getty Images

"Our applications also eliminate paper as we digitize the workflows. The reduction or elimination of paper reduces waste, and optimizes mobile field service, asset management, worker, and customer service efficiency."

But there is a downside to the model of paying for the data you use, said Asim Razzaq, CEO of Yotascale, a cloud cost management company, in an email interview. 

"Because not everyone has the ability to accurately predict their usage, cloud compute capacity is quite often overprovisioned and goes unused, adding to compute carbon footprint," Razzaq said.

"Between 25% and 40% of cloud compute is underutilized, in large part to ensure uptime and customer experience is not compromised."

Cloud providers also can reduce their power consumption by using special components for networking and security services.

"Offloading services that are typically run on general-purpose CPUs not only reduces power requirements," Andersson said. "It frees up expensive CPU cycles meaning cloud providers can run more workloads with less servers and associated resources."

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