Software

Going Google can mean going green and saving money

If you can reduce your company's annual carbon footprint by at least 11 tons and save money, would you? Susan Cline suggests it is more than possible.

Let's be honest. Most medium and large businesses don't "go Google" for the sheer environmental impact.

The key reasons that most medium-sized and enterprise companies began "greening" their data centers in the last decade are actually pretty prosaic, and not necessarily environmental.

Also, if you look at the Go Google web page, you're not going to see any copy about environmental impact. At this point, it looks like there are two key advantages to using Google's cloud infrastructure:

  1. It's clear that they have a much greener footprint than your company does, and
  2. Using Gmail appears to be 80 times more energy efficient than running your email in-house.

First, let's look at what makes a data center cheaper.

In a 2010 Forbes article, Dell's CIO, Robin Johnson, cited that 40% of an enterprise's power costs could be spent on technology alone. One big factor in this expense is that when a server is running an application in one location, there's unused space on that server. If it's not running at full capacity that space and the power required, is being wasted.

Here's Google's data center philosophy: at a high level, Google states that their data centers are using nearly 50% less energy than the average data center because they do a few things differently.

They use mostly recycled equipment, and they claim that they've kept their data center operation carbon neutral since 2007, but I haven't read the neutral third-party verifications of this statement. (That said, Google did reveal their actual carbon footprint a few weeks ago - it's on par with the United Nations' carbon footprint. Google's power distribution techniques have a lot to do with keeping their internal costs down, too.

Gmail

Then there's the whole Gmail thing. If you're having trouble believing how or why their infrastructure is 80 times more efficient than yours, let's break it down. (You may want to print out this PDF for visuals).

First you have to remember what's powering your email system: the client device (phone, laptop, PC), the network (your routers, switches and all the other networking equipment) and your servers. By switching to cloud-based email, right there, you're cutting out two of those three pieces, for routing email. Let's say you have a company with 1000 employees - you'd need two multi-core servers, and these would draw 900 watts. That's a lot of power.

If you scale it down a little, and realize that most 50-employee companies are buying servers that can host email for a 300-employee company, you see that out of the 400 watts that their two small-company email servers are using, 300 of them are being wasted. (Two servers would be used for redundancy.)

Without getting too deep into the heating and cooling requirements for servers - which you can read about in the PDF - it becomes clear that some small businesses are at least 20x less green than they should be, compared to big businesses, simply because their servers are being used inefficiently, let alone not being cloud-based.

A small business user requires 8 watts of power, per user, and an enterprise user requires .54 watts, while a Gmail user requires .22 watts. So, the choice for IT directors of a smaller company (100 users) is pretty clear: 800 watts versus .22 watts on Gmail.

How to tell if your enterprise is big enough to make an environmental impact

"Are we even big enough to make a difference?"

That's a question you'll likely hear from your CIO or even your CEO. Here's how to tell.

You can gauge the carbon usage of your email and file storage assets by using the PDF linked in this article. Chances are, if you're a small or medium business, your user's annual carbon footprint is somewhere between 103kg and 16.7kg, for email alone. If your company had access to the assets that large companies have, it would be closer to 4.1kg, and if you put it in the cloud it can get pretty close to the 1kg mark.

The question you should ask in reply to your CIO's concerns is, "If we can reduce our company's annual carbon footprint by at least 11 tons, would you want to look at a way to do that, especially if it may save us money?"

About

Susan Cline is the Director of Training and Change Management at Google Apps Parter Ltech. She is also the author of several Google Apps courses on Lynda.com. Visit Susan at her website http://susancline.com/ or follow her on Twitter @GoogleAppsSusa...

11 comments
rmazzeo
rmazzeo

...nothing is "more than possible." It either is or isn't possible, but it can't possibly be more possible than it already is. Go ahead, figure it out, I know you can - it's more than possible...

carlton.tilley
carlton.tilley

That I take here sales pitch to the boss and and say: Hey you know how you can save money and go green? Well you get ride of the equipment that we use. Change your business model to tie your technology infrastructure to google. Then you can lay me off! That then gives you the ability to save allot of money on my payroll, give somebody else a job other than me and you will have helped saved the planet Mr. CIO. Thanks Susan for helping me understand how to save the planet using Google!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

About making the following claims: 1. It???s clear that they have a much greener footprint than your company does. 2. Using Gmail appears to be 80 times more energy efficient than running your email in-house.

tufailshahzad
tufailshahzad

Hi Susan, Cloud computing is the next innovation coming in our generations, i was reading a study on Gmail's blog about cloud computing and how it is going to save our nature/atmosphere. I have discussed and suggested to many business owners and companies to switch from their local email/apps server to Google Apps but their response was very reluctant, even in the recent past i discussed this matter with Christina Waren (Writer at Mashable) she was looking to have a better email platform on her MAC but she state away refused to use Gmail/Google platform. I think it will take time to understand the benefits of cloud computing and going green.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I think selling company executives on going green has always really been about selling the associated decrease in costs that can come from "green" initiatives. Is that how you approach concepts like cloud computing and software as a service? Is it a tough sale?

susancline
susancline

Hi Carlton, If you've read some of my other articles you can see that I am not making a sales pitch for Google. I have made negative statements about the Google Apps platform as well as positive ones. I don't believe that Google Apps is right for all businesses. However, from the data Google has presented, I will give them credit for presenting a green solution. Does the use of Google Apps change the role of IT professionals in a business? Yes. If IT professionals don't update their skills to include cloud computing and management, then they put themselves at risk of having their jobs outsourced.

susancline
susancline

Michael, 1. If your total power per user is less than a quarter of a watt, than you are correct, your company may be greener than Gmail. 2. Check out the PDF linked in the beginning of the article - page 5. In the graph it shows that total power per user needed is 20watts, in the cloud, this is under a quarter of a watt. That reflects the 80x savings.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

A lot of the newer hardware is reported to be more energy efficient than the older kit. Seems the majority of the claims for XX percent savings etc. are usually bunk, sort of like the "expert" testimonials on televised infomercials!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I use solar. And, your second comment does not make sense to me, I am sorry. Users need their computers regardless of where the services are?

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