Migrating to the cloud offers myriad benefits for higher education institutions. It frees up valuable space on campus, helps enable remote learning and working, offers easier access to resources, and provides long-term cost savings. According to an Ellucian survey, the pandemic expedited higher education’s move to the cloud, as it provided a more efficient way for students, faculty and staff to collaborate from disparate locations.
But the benefits of cloud adoption extend beyond what the cloud can do for a university’s data storage and software applications. It also reduces an institution’s reliance on energy-intensive physical infrastructure that increases its carbon footprint. Cloud computing relies on sharing services, which means greater resource efficiency and effectiveness.
Here are four ways cloud adoption can help support climate-friendly initiatives in higher education.
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1. Migrating to the Cloud Reduces Campus Energy Consumption
A report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory determined that U.S. data centers consume about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, which is approximately 1.8 percent of the country’s total electricity consumption. Additional research from Berkeley Lab and Northwestern University indicates that moving an organization’s software applications to the cloud could cut IT energy consumption by up to 87 percent.
By moving to the cloud and reducing reliance on physical data centers, universities can save significantly on energy costs. According to a study from Microsoft and WSP USA, an organization adopting Microsoft’s cloud over a traditional data center can experience up to a 93 percent improvement in energy efficiency. The study notes that smaller organizations moving to the cloud achieve the greatest savings, but there are efficiency benefits for organizations of all sizes.
2. Cloud Computing Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions
A 2021 study by IDC indicates that the continued adoption of cloud computing could prevent the emission of more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2024. According to IDC, emissions reductions are driven by the greater efficiency of aggregated computing resources and data centers that can better manage power capacity, optimize cooling, use power-efficient servers and increase server utilization rates.
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3. Public Cloud Providers Utilize Renewable Energy Sources
Many large public cloud providers have committed to using renewable energy sources at their data centers, which minimizes the carbon footprint of these services.
A large percentage of Microsoft’s operations are powered by wind, solar and hydropower electricity. The company has a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy sources at its buildings and data centers by 2025. By 2030, the company hopes to be carbon-negative, removing Microsoft’s carbon footprint altogether.
Similarly, Amazon Web Services has pledged to power 100 percent of its operations through renewable energy by 2025. Amazon is the world’s largest corporate buyer of renewable energy, and an AWS-backed study by 451 Research indicated that AWS’ infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy efficient than the median of surveyed U.S. enterprise data centers.
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4. Cloud Computing Results in Dematerialization
Dematerialization is the reduction in volume of energy-intensive physical devices in exchange for their virtual equivalents. In the case of cloud computing, a move to the cloud means less reliance on physical storage, minimizing the energy required to power them. Additionally, reducing the number of physical objects also reduces the amount of waste that results from their disposal once they reach the end of their lives.
Cloud computing not only offers collaboration and cost benefits for a higher education institution, but it also helps shrink an institution’s carbon footprint, save energy and reduce waste, all contributing to an effective sustainability strategy.