BERLIN – Most of us, as technology consumers, mentally separate digital from reality. The internet feels abstract in comparison to older iterations of technology, like CDs, DVDs and newspapers, which are tangible. Music and video streaming services like Spotify and Netflix just don’t have the same feel as their older counterparts.
This sense of digital “weightlessness” has only been heightened by the accessibility of Wi-Fi, which is seemingly everywhere, giving users the feeling of being plugged in at all times without physically being connected to anything at all.
The cloud reinforces a feeling of abstract power. It is a vague place we don’t seem to think about outside of eliminating restrictions on storage capacity. For this reason, we are happy to “dump” our data there. However, the cloud does impact the environment and has consequences. It’s not often we consider how many servers are actually propping up our wireless lifestyles. What we need to realize is the cloud is a physical storage facility that has a burden on the world and the internet does have a carbon footprint.
Both cloud computing and environmental sustainability are emerging trends in business and society. Most consumers are already heavy users of cloud-enabled services like email, social media, online gaming and many mobile applications, without being fully aware of it. The increase in use translates into the simultaneous growth of the global impact of our information technology practices.
While shifting to online video streaming and digital publications are a greener way to consume media — less paper and transportation – it does not fully mitigate our digital technology impacts. The main impact of cloud computing is the large amounts of electricity required to power the servers and keep them cool. Demand for cloud computing is only expected to grow; an IDC Study claims that by 2025, worldwide annual data traffic will increase by 60% to 175 zettabytes (175 trillion gigabytes), with cloud computing applications driving the majority of this growth.
As sustainability continues to gain importance, corporate sustainability officers and regulators have challenged companies to develop long-term strategies to reduce their carbon footprint through more sustainable operations and products.
According to a study conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Northwestern University with funding from Google, they found that moving common software applications used by 86 million U.S. workers to the cloud could save enough electricity annually to power Los Angeles for a year.
The report examined the use of email, CRM software and bundled productivity software (spreadsheets, file sharing, word processing, etc.)- which are all commonly used business applications. They discovered that by moving these software applications from local computer systems to centralized cloud services it could cut IT energy consumption by up to 87 percent. Furthermore, cloud computing is a major enabler of both home and remote working, reducing the need for commuting and therefore decreasing emissions.
Cloud computing has enormous potential to transform the world of IT: reducing costs, improving efficiency and business agility and contributing to a more sustainable world.