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Updated by Charles Bystock on 03/18/2014

cloud computing and data centersFrom global warming on down to the details of everyday living, sustainability seems to be on everyone’s mind. In many industries, going green has become as important for corporate reputations as for the environment. Cloud computing and data centers converge in ways that can help you create a greener IT environment.

Or do they?

The narrow view says yes.

Computers themselves are far more energy-efficient than they used to be, even as they are far more powerful than ever before. So you’re automatically greener. Reconfiguring your storage architecture and virtualizing your data centers further increases efficiencies, though it has to be done right to accomplish maximum savings.

There are important financial reasons to go green, too. Power consumption is a major budget item for any data center environment, and rapidly increasing volumes of data require ever more capacity to process and store the information. More workload equals more power used.

On the other hand, sharing cloud computing and data centers via outsourcing eliminates the need to buy and operate physical equipment and software applications. That reduces your physical footprint as well as your sizeable carbon footprint that comes from electronic emissions.

Cloud computing services can help your company address the seemingly insatiable need to accommodate ever-increasing data volumes. You no longer have to stock up on capacity you rarely need, just so you’re prepared for periodic peaks. That gives you another kind of “green,” because you can save or redirect capital funds formerly allocated to IT resources.

The broader view is a bit more murky.

Sharing pooled resources and facilities enables your internal IT to function more efficiently and cost-effectively. When you multiply that by the growing number of companies in the pool, the broader social impact can be significant indeed. By greening-up your data centers, you’re helping create a greener world, and that’s a good thing. The composite savings easily soar into the multi-millions of dollars, with corresponding conservation of finite natural resources.

Virtualizing your IT environment increases your ability to interact with customers digitally. That reduces or eliminates the need for physical stores or even offices, the need for employees and customers to drive to those locations, etc., generating a broader array of energy savings. Some of that has a direct impact on your financials, but much of those benefits are considerably more esoteric.

Even the most socially conscious corporations may not see sustainability as a priority, despite the positive environmental impact and possibly increased goodwill it can bring. You’re in business to make money, and initiatives that don’t align with that simply send you off course.

And just because you aren’t using up vast amounts of energy and producing toxic emissions doesn’t mean no one is. The onus has mostly shifted to your cloud services and data center management providers, who undoubtedly have enormous, albeit partially virtualized, data centers of their own humming 24/7 to ensure you and your customers get the service you expect.

What can you do?

Assuming your company has a sustainability plan in place as part of your overall business goals, you can consider specific enhancements or modifications or outright transformation of your IT environment that enable you to reduce internal power and cooling needs. Cloud computing and data centers are good places to start.

You can ask the right questions of potential service providers, to ensure you’re choosing working partners whose “green quotient” and goals match yours. That way you aren’t simply dodging responsibility by handing it off to someone else.

Energy efficiency is about tradeoffs. While it’s clear strategically designed solutions for cloud computing and data centers can bring great savings, you can’t make a high-level case for your own organization by focusing on one or a few specifics. Instead, you’ll need to weigh the value of each opportunity against the costs and, eventually, your bottom line, to calculate company-wide impact.