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Cloud Computing Can Save Enough Energy to Power Los Angeles for a Year

July 3, 2013 No Comments

Los Angeles is big on power couples, power lunches and of course, plenty of star power.

Now the City of Angels is big on power savings.

According to a recent study, cloud computing could cut U.S. enterprise energy use by 87 percent by enabling firms to shift their software applications from local servers to the cloud. The report was conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

While research conducted last year by McKinsey & Company for The New York Times found that data centers can be wasteful power hogs, this report suggests that cloud computing can reduce data center energy demand through server consolidation and increased facility efficiencies.

The recent report estimates that by shifting software applications, such as email, productivity software, and customer relationship management software, to the cloud, U.S. firms could save enough energy to power Los Angeles for a year.

The six-month study was led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and conducted with Northwestern University.

The report looks at three common business applications — email, customer relationship management software, or CRM, and bundled productivity software (spreadsheets, file sharing, word processing, etc.). Moving these software applications from local computer systems to centralized cloud services could cut information technology energy consumption by up to 87 percent — about 23 billion kilowatt-hours. This is roughly the amount of electricity used each year by all the homes, businesses and industry in Los Angeles, according to an article on

“Potential savings are especially pronounced for email and productivity software, which are used by a large number of employees and currently rely on servers that are widely dispersed in mostly small data centers where servers are underutilized,” the report observed.

The national lab developed the cloud energy and emissions research (CLEER) model to assess the “net energy and emissions implications of cloud computing in different regions at different levels of market adoption.” CLEER is an open-access model that is freely available online.

The lab admitted that the model is not foolproof. “Despite these uncertainties, the energy savings potential of cloud-based software is likely to be substantial on a national scale given the vast differences between the energy efficiencies of local and cloud data centers,” the report added.

A primary goal of the project was to develop a state-of-the-art model that both researchers and the general public could use to analyze the energy and carbon impacts of cloud computing.

“We can’t fly by the seat of our pants when it comes to assessing sustainability. We need numbers — hard data — to properly analyze how cloud computing compares to how computing is done now,” said Northwestern’s Eric Masanet, lead author of the report. “Well-thought-out analysis is especially important with new technology, which can have unforeseen effects. Our public model allows us to look forward and make informed decisions. What we found overall is that by hosting services on the cloud as opposed to locally, the savings are pretty robust.”

Patrick Burke

Patrick Burke is a writer and editor based in the greater New York area and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting

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