An Earth Day Perspective: Unlocking Energy Savings with Cloud Computing

In the 40 years since the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, the annual event has become a time not only for individuals, but also for companies, government agencies and organizations of all sizes to affirm their environmental commitments.

At Microsoft, our environmental efforts occur 365 days a year. To add our unique contribution to the celebration of Earth Day, we wanted to take this opportunity to reflect and share our thoughts on how trends in information technology can help address the pressing energy and environmental sustainability challenges facing the world.

One of the things we’re most excited about is the shift to Internet-based computing services (cloud computing), which offer dramatic new ways to save energy and reduce the environmental impacts of IT. Microsoft commissioned a study by Accenture and the environmental consulting firm WSP that looked at the total energy savings resulting when organizations move common business applications such as Microsoft Exchange for e-mail from their own servers to servers hosted in remote data centers.

The study found that large enterprises can expect to cut their energy use per user by at least 30 percent, and in the case of small businesses, the result is even more dramatic, with potential savings of up to 90 percent.
 
What accounts for these savings? A good analogy is mass transit, where moving thousands of people around on a shared infrastructure rather than single-occupancy vehicles results in significant energy savings and reduced environmental impact. The same is true in cloud computing. In many businesses today, applications often run on servers that are only using about 10 percent of their capacity but run all day, resulting in a great deal of wasted energy.

With huge economies of scale, cloud operators like Microsoft can optimize the processing of computing workloads and operate computer hardware in the most efficient manner. Microsoft’s recently opened state-of-the-art data centers in Quincy, Wash., and Dublin, Ireland use 50 percent less energy than traditional data center designs. Both facilities rely on 100 percent renewable power sources—hydropower in Quincy and wind power in Dublin.

The tremendous energy savings resulting from more efficient use of information technology with cloud computing are only part of the story, however. Potentially even more significant are the savings across the economy that cloud computing models enable. For instance, Microsoft has partnered with Ford and Toyota to offer cloud-based software programs that will manage when electric vehicle owners recharge their vehicles.

This will make electric vehicles more affordable to operate, and reduce demands on the power grid that could require new power plants to be built. We’ve also helped innovative small businesses like Wisconsin-based Orion Energy Systems Power use the cost savings and scalability of the cloud to develop innovative new energy saving services for their lighting customers.

To highlight some of the energy savings opportunities that cloud computing is best positioned to address, Microsoft recently released a white paper, “The Central Role of Cloud Computing in Making Cities Energy-Smart.” On this Earth Day, we’re optimistic that IT will continue to play an ever increasing role in in addressing the pressing energy and environmental sustainability challenges facing the world.

For more information on Microsoft’s efforts to reduce our own energy use, the energy use of our products and the energy use of our customers, visit www.microsoft.com/environment.

 

About the Author

Chief Environmental & Cities Strategist, Microsoft