Officials at the European Commission are considering proposals to make enterprise servers greener, this would have a significant effect on the cloud computing industry as such servers are vital for operation of cloud servers.
Regulation of servers in this manner will need to be carefully considered and weighed up against the Commission's own pledge to help support and promote adoption and speed of cloud services. The fear is that such measures could stifle Europe's digital economy if not implemented thoughtfully.
In 2011 the European Commission ran a survey that showed the adoption of cloud computing would help 80% of businesses to reduce their costs by as much as 20 percent.
While digital communications have helped to save on some resources and undoubtedly provided many benefits, we cannot ignore the environmental impact of the energy production needed to power these systems, as well as the resources needed to manufacture electronic components.
“Cloud computing can help mitigate these problems thanks to more efficient use of hardware as well as, more specifically, by building data centres to use low-energy servers and green energy,” the strategy said.
Some estimates predict that large companies in the United States could save as much as $12 billion per annum in energy consumption by moving to cloud based systems.
An effective cloud system needs data centres, and these data centres are power hungry. Large corporations such as Google have already made considerable effort to reduce the environmental impact and running costs of their own servers. As these data centres require a huge amount of power, any saving will result in a significant financial saving.
Large streamlined centres such as those at Google are vastly more efficient than smaller servers traditionally run by companies on their own premises for their own needs. It makes sense that then, that moving to the cloud benefits everyone, both financially and environmentally. The effect is comparable to dense city housing versus suburban housing. Having many people living in one building reduces the carbon footprint of all those living there as services can be streamlined and amenities can be localised.
Google produced the chart you see below that shows the staggering difference in energy use between local and cloud hosted email.
“Digital of course means energy, but the chances are the net gains offset what looks like the immediate extra drain from more digital activity,” said a spokesman for the European Environmental Bureau. “Research is needed however, rather than a headlong rush into digital, since there is a real danger that, in a nutshell, more cloud may mean more coal,” he added.
It is too early to say whether use of cloud will actually be enforced, rather than simply encouraged. It is clear though that energy efficiency and means of energy production are crucial to the future of IT, the economy at large and the environment.