Going Green: Cloud Computing and the Environment

Cloud computing lets you store, access and manipulate data online. If you use Yahoo Mail, Google Docs, Rocket Matter, Evernote, or similar cloud-based services, you’re cloud computing.

And it’s expanding. A recent Forrester’s report, Sizing the Cloud, predicts that the market for cloud computing will grow from $40.7 billion in 2011 to more than $241 billion in 2020.

We’ve heard the typical advantages of cloud computing: it reduces and even eliminates the operations and maintenance cost of on-premises IT infrastructure, and enables access to your data from anywhere, at anytime.

However there’s another cloud computing advantage a lot of people overlook:  it’s good for the environment.

Power consumption debate – The power-hungry data centers that enable cloud computing requires many megawatts of power and there is some debate about their energy efficiency — the electricity to keep the server farms running and air-conditioned.

However, a study commissioned by Microsoft estimates that large businesses could reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions by up to 30 percent by moving certain on-premise applications into the cloud.

The impact on smaller companies was even more profound: energy use and emissions can be reduced by up to 90 percent by using the cloud instead of an on-premise IT infrastructure approach.

And companies with large data centers like Apple, Microsoft, and Google continue to implement new green energy initiatives, such as using piped Columbia River water as opposed to air conditioning to cool down servers.

Energy efficient Scaling – Companies can quickly scale-up (or scale-down) capacity and services of cloud-based applications without buying and managing on-premises infrastructure, so the power needs of the individual firms decrease.

Working and studying online – Due to cloud-based applications and services, more workers are telecommuting and students are flocking to online universities. This reduces transportation to and from the office or school and eliminates the need for additional office space and classrooms, significantly reducing carbon emissions.

Outsource IT – Some solo lawyers and small firms use a basic Excel spreadsheet to manage their practice, and cobble together software programs to handle individual chores. They each, in effect, create their own local server with IT needs and services. Cloud-based legal practice management software outsources that responsibility and support and and ramps up productivity, reporting and analysis with integrated billing, invoicing, trust accounting, tasks, calendaring, and more. In the process, individual carbon footprints are consolidated into one energy-efficient provider.

Reduced Landfill Waste – Since law firms using cloud computing don’t have to purchase servers for file storage or matter management, they don’t have to dispose of them after their three to five years of use are up.  That means less plastic and hazardous metals going into our nation’s landfills.

Cloud computing benefits the end user, and as energy efficiencies of data centers that power cloud computing continue to improve, it benefits the environment.

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