Cloud computing. The running of computer applications off remote servers, usually the Internet, is considered the next big thing when it comes to improving business efficiency. It turns out the benefits could also mean energy efficiency.
A recent study from CDW , an information technology products and services company, found that 62% of IT professionals in late 2011 view cloud computing as an energy-efficient approach to data center consolidation, up from 47% a year before. Among respondents, 65% said they had implemented server virtualization, a form of cloud computing. Those who made the leap to virtualization reported a 28% drop in energy use.
So how is this reducing energy use? According to GreenBiz.com, moving to the cloud  increases telecommuting by allowing employees to more easily work remotely by running applications of the cloud, rather than internal servers. It also results in less required office space for businesses, due to this greater telecommuting and because it removes the need for internal data rooms.
A 2010 Accenture study  found efficiencies through the centralization that cloud computing provides. Data centers serving multiple business clients are able to better match server capacity with usage. The shared infrastructure flattens relative peak loads, and the servers are utilized at higher rates.
The data centers also generally have their act together more when it comes to cooling, power conditioning and other server management activities that lead to overall energy efficiency. It’s their business, after all.
According to the Accenture study, by moving applications to cloud, businesses:
“. . .can take advantage of highly efficient cloud infrastructure, effectively “outsourcing” their IT efficiency investments while helping their company achieve its sustainability goals. Beyond the commonly cited benefits of cloud computing— such as cost savings and increased agility—cloud computing has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of many business applications.”
Microsoft engaged with Accenture on the study, so Accenture compared the environmental impact of a group of Microsoft business applications run on-premise, versus on the cloud.
The results were stunning. A small business with 100 users that moved the Microsoft applications to the cloud could cut energy use and carbon emissions by 90%. Large organizations with 10,000 users saw a 30% reduction.
Before pulling the plug on your server room and looking up cloud computer services, remember that cloud computing isn’t for every business. Reliability issues and information security need to be considered. Check out this New York Times small-business guide  from September 2011 for an analysis of the tradeoffs.
The Cloud  Photo via Shutterstock