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Google Apps Cuts GSA Energy Costs

Google argues that cloud computing can help companies and government agencies save energy and money, cites GSA as proof.

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If you haven't embraced cloud computing, you're killing the planet.

While Google, one of the leading proponents of cloud computing, wouldn't quite put it that way, the company is suggesting that energy and money can be saved by shifting from on-premises software to cloud-hosted software like Google Apps.

Google's proof comes in the form of a whitepaper published by the company that documents savings achieved by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) in its transition to Google Apps.

The GSA completed its transition to Gmail in 2011 and says it expects its move to the cloud to save 50%--about $3 million--on email operating costs.

[ Not all of Google's interactions with governments are so positive. Read Google Sees Surge In Censorship Demands. ]

The agency expects that its switch to Google Apps will save a greater percentage on its energy costs. The GSA has about 17,000 users at more than a dozen locations across the U.S. It provided Google with data about its energy usage before and after Google Apps.

Before switching to Google Apps, the GSA operated 324 servers. Having migrated its users to Google Apps, it now has 61 servers. The total direct power required by GSA servers has declined from 163 kW to 22 kW and the annual GSA server energy consumption per user, direct and indirect, fell from 175 kWh/user to 20 kWh/user.

The GSA's energy cost before Google Apps came to $307,400 annually, according to Google. Afterward, it declined to $22,400, a savings of 93%, to say nothing of the 85% reduction in carbon emissions. The GSA did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the figures Google cites.

Energy usage in the GSA's 18,300 laptops (about 3,600,000 kWh) was not included and was not substantially affected by the shift to Google Apps; were it included, the GSA's power savings per user would drop from 87% to 39%.

Google says that migrating to Google Apps can save companies 70% to 90% on direct energy for servers and 70% to 90% on cooling costs, or 68% to 87% on energy usage overall.

That's because the typical organization deploys more servers than it needs to guard against failures and surges in demand, says Urs Hoelzle, Google SVP of technical infrastructure, in a blog post. Cloud providers like Google, he says, can utilize their servers more efficiently by aggregating demand across their customer base and have optimized their systems and software for energy efficiency.

However, there a small increase in energy costs associated with Google Apps. Google suggests that offices use cloud-connected computers and networks more than on-premises systems, which increases office energy usage 2% to 3%.

Google did not include the potential added benefit of adopting its Chromebook hardware. "With the growth of cloud based applications, these faster, lighter and less power-hungry devices could replace laptops for many users--leading to additional energy savings of 10% to 45% for employee computers," the company claims.

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