Cloud computing is even greener than we thought

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The idea that cloud computing is green really depends on whom you’re talking to. Some say data center growth is driven by those evil cloud providers. They build huge, ugly structures that consume more power and water than a small town, take up a lot of real estate that could be used for farming, and really don’t employ that many people.

However, the data centers run by the major public cloud providers have a positive effect on power consumption for computing, generally speaking. Why? They operate at somewhere near 98 percent utilization for most of the physical hardware. On the opposite end, the physical servers of traditional enterprise data centers operate between 5 to 10 percent utilization, even when virtualized.

Migrating to the public cloud will use much less power, considering that you’re sharing resources with other tenants. Unused resources are automatically allocated to others in the cloud who need them. Thus, the more we build cloud computing data centers instead of enterprise ones, the greener we’ll be—counterintuitive, I know. 

Another unexpected result of the growth of cloud computing is the increasing number of remote workers. Working from home is nothing new—most people do it from time to time—but the idea that you don’t have a physical space in a building is indeed the future, for a few reasons:

  • Cloud computing provides ubiquitous access to data and processing from anywhere you can get a proper Internet connection, so it no longer matters where you are.
  • The rise of 5G solves many bandwidth issues to remote areas with substandard or nonexistent Internet access.
  • Office space costs approximately $4,000 a month on average (in my experience as a CEO). That’s $48,000 a year that could be saved if employees worked remotely. These funds could then be allocated to hiring more employees.
  • More cloud-based online collaboration tools exist now, allowing team members to share ideas, code, solutions, and general communications. Productivity is higher considering that you’re removing the latency from an endless number of in-person meetings that take up too much time for too many people. Indeed, I’ve seen many devops team members who sit in the same building but never interact in person.
  • Many entering the workforce choose not to buy cars. In some cases they don’t get a driver’s license until it’s absolutely necessary. They gravitate to remote working opportunities.
  • Finally, those trying to attract talent find that offering remote work gets the better players in the door.

I’m not crediting cloud computing as the only enabler of remote working, but it is a primary driver of technological changes needed to make remote working productive. This drives some desirable outcomes, such as fewer cars on the road (reducing traffic, burning less fuel, lowering CO2), lower turnover for most remote work positions, and reduced costs for office space and infrastructure. Employees learn good remote collaboration skills that are helpful in high travel jobs, as well as in remote working. The big one is turning the time spent commuting to and from work into productive time.