WSP conducts research with NRDC which indicates cloud computing may not always be greener than on-premise server rooms | 9th Oct 2012
In partnership with the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), WSP Environment & Energy, LLC (WSP) completed a new study focused on the impact of cloud computing on the environment to identify the most energy and carbon efficient IT solutions for small- and medium-sized organizations (SMOs). To uncover the major factors determining how on-premise server rooms and cloud computing stack up in carbon emissions and energy savings, WSP examined five different scenarios with the goal of making it easier for companies to compare options and consider sustainability in their decision-making.
Josh Whitney, Senior Project Director at WSP and the lead author of the report notes that "following our previous work with leading IT and cloud computing providers like Microsoft and salesforce.com, we realized it was critical to assess the implications of moving to the cloud for smaller organizations, because while the large providers dominate today's headlines, smaller server rooms and closets are responsible for approximately half of the current installed server base in the United States, and these are typically managed less efficiently than larger data centers. So their impact as a category is considerable and potentially as large as the handful of name brand cloud provider footprints."
The analysis breaks new ground in identifying how best practice, average, and worst-case scenarios impact environmental performance when modeled across a variety of application and deployment types (from a simple on-premise server with no virtualization, to a server room with virtualization, through to private and public cloud deployments).
The study finds that while running a computer application in the cloud is generally more energy- and carbon-efficient than running it in your server room, the carbon footprint of cloud computing services is highly dependent on a number of important variables that were considered in the analysis including server utilization factor, electricity carbon emissions factor for the location of the data center, the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio, and hardware efficiency. Download the report.
The study comes on the heels of a widely circulated New York Times article and series which highlighted the potential pit falls of data centers and cloud computing. Building upon a direct response from Microsoft, Mr. Whitney commented, "we support many of the critics of this article because it 'fails to recognize that not all data centers are created equal, nor are the operations and software applications running inside those data centers equally utilized'. What we are excited about with this study, is that we do, in fact, draw specific distinctions between modern, state-of-the-art data centers that may or may not implement energy and carbon-efficiency best-practices and smaller server rooms and closets that may or may not be managed less efficiently. And this allows for a more holistic comparison between the range of deployment types and operating practices."
Pierre Delforge, Project Manager with NRDC, who commissioned the study and developed the NRDC companion piece summarizes that "while cloud computing is generally more energy- and carbon-efficient than on-premise server rooms, SMOs looking to improve the environmental sustainability of their operations should ask cloud service providers for full disclosure of the carbon efficiency of the services they offer, and consider all the key variables that contribute to the energy savings and carbon impact of their computing options. SMOs who choose to keep their computing services on-premise, should optimize the utilization of their servers, as well as cooling and server efficiency."