Cloud Computing Usually – But Not Always – the Most Efficient Choice

The cloud generally beats on-premise computing for energy efficiency, according to a study of IT products and services for small- and medium-sized businesses. Often cloud computing offers greater diversity and can serve more customers at the same time, achieving better economies of scale, according to the report, “The Carbon Emissions of Server Computing for Small- To Medium-Sized Organizations,” prepared by WSP Environment & Energy in partnership with the Natural Resource Defense Council.

Smaller server rooms and closets are responsible for about half of the current installed server base in the United States, and these are typically managed less efficiently than larger data centers, according to the report.

But the study said cloud computing is not always the most energy or carbon-efficient choice. The most efficient on-premise server rooms can have better power usage effectiveness than the least efficient cloud services, WSP said (see chart).

The study found that higher server utilization, for example through virtualization, can greatly increase energy efficiency. In an average small- or medium-sized business, one server is allocated to run a single application and the server only serves that business – making it underutilized.

The efficiency of the server room infrastructure, including cooling and power distribution, also remains a key opportunity for efficiency improvements in server rooms. Small- and medium-sized businesses sometimes house their servers in facilities with sub-optimal air flow and cooling.

Upgrading server equipment to newer models is another way to reduce overall energy consumption, given 
that computing efficiency is doubling every 1.5 years, the report said. The servers at small- to medium-sized businesses tend to be older and less efficient.

The report authors advise smaller businesses to consider the key variables that contribute to the energy savings of their computing options, and those who choose to keep their computing services on-premise should optimize the utilization of their servers, as well as cooling and server efficiency.

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One thought on “Cloud Computing Usually – But Not Always – the Most Efficient Choice

  1. Once again we have a report that indicates that the cloud is greener than on site premises and it is seriously flawed in its outlook.
    1. No mention of network energy costs or carbon.
    2. No mention of the need to have high speed broadband to access cloud services.
    3. Using PUE as a comparator metric when it should not be.
    4. Very silly assumptions about server utilization and refresh rates.
    5. No mention of the embodied energy contained within servers.
    Poor reporting and flawed methodology to no doubt support the organisation that paid for the research.
    Not the first time either.

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