Can the cloud save the planet? Or at least help businesses cut energy costs?

IT pros who might still be on the fence about moving their operations to the cloud have a new facet of the argument to consider: According to a new report from research firm Verdantix, U.S. companies that use cloud computing can achieve annual energy savings of $12.3 billion and annual carbon reductions equivalent to 200 million barrels of oil—enough oil, the study said, to power 5.7 million cars for a year.

(Feel guilty yet that you’re not doing your part to save the planet because your business hasn’t yet made the jump to the cloud? Well, don’t despair too much yet: The study was sponsored by AT&T, which obviously has a vested interest in businesses embracing cloud computing—and paying companies like AT&T to provide them with cloud services).

Despite that inherent bias, the numbers are pretty compelling: A typical food and beverage firm (the type of company used as an example in the study) that transitions its human resources application from dedicated IT to a public cloud can reduce CO2 emisssions by 30,000 metric tons over five years, according to the report. The same company that moves to a private internal cloud can reduce emissions by 25,000 metric tons over five years. And overall, the study reports, U.S. businesses with revenues of more than $1 billion can cut CO2 emissions by 85.7 million metric tons annually by 2020 as a result of dedicating 69 percent of their infrastructure, platform and software budgets on cloud services.

The study, “Cloud Computing: The IT Solution for the 21st Century,” is part of the Carbon Disclosure Project, a not-for-profit organization that studies climate change. Verdantix conducted interviews with large companies—including Aviva, Boeing, Citigroup and Juniper Networks—in a number of business sectors. All of the subjects had adopted cloud services for at least two years. 

The companies surveyed for the study said they plan to accelerate their adoption of cloud computing from 10 percent to 69 percent of their information technology spend by 2020. Many of the firms interviewed reported cost savings as a primary motivator for the transition to the cloud, citing anticipated cost reductions in the 40 to 50 percent range.  


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