Pundit Calls Salesforce Cloud Claim "Wishful Thinking"

Salesforce's study claims using its cloud computing leads to huge CO2 Reductions. Not everyone agrees.

Salesforce.com released the results of a study that it says shows that running applications in its cloud computing environment instead of on-premises can greatly lessen those applications' carbon footprint.

As one of the first to embrace cloud computing and a strong advocate of the business model, Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) claims it has the numbers to prove it.

"The study estimates that customers of Salesforce.com's cloud computing services produce 95 percent less carbon, on average, compared with running equivalent software in on-premise application servers," a company statement said.

The claims come in a Salesforce-sponsored study conducted by WSP Environment & Energy, and released during Salesforce's Cloudforce 2011 event in New York.

Key to Salesforce's -- and some other cloud services providers', efficiency has to do with what's called "multi-tenancy." It's the ability to serve many clients with a single copy of the application -- sharing the infrastructure in a manner similar to an apartment building. It results, the company said, in much greater efficiency and many fewer servers -- which translates into lower CO2 emissions.

"With Salesforce.com's multi-tenant model, organizations that value sustainability can give their users powerful enterprise apps without the high cost, complexity and CO2 emissions associated with on-premise systems or false clouds that still require companies to buy hardware and install software," Marc Benioff, Salesforce's chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

"The Salesforce.com community saved an estimated 170,900 tons of carbon in 2010 -- the equivalent of taking 37,000 cars off the road, or avoiding the consumption of 19.5 million gallons of gas," the statement added.

While there are figures to show that, at least theoretically, massive reductions in CO2 output can be achieved by consolidating computing resources in the cloud rather than running them locally, however, there may be unseen factors and some wishful thinking that change the reality, two analysts said.

"It's one of the goofier things I've heard someone say about cloud computing lately," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told InternetNews.com.

"Most cloud datacenters are more efficient than regular datacenters, but 95 percent seems 'ambitious'," King added.

Both King and Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, agree that there are compelling reasons for moving to a cloud computing model, and that lowering greenhouse gas emissions is one.

"One of the problems, though, is with the measurement of the carbon footprint," Enderle said.

For example, datacenters in one region may not be powered by electricity that is as cleanly-generated as it is in another, making for differences in how much carbon is emitted in one location over another, Enderle added.

"In a lot of areas, they don't have the controls and regulations they do in the U.S. ... it may be a lot less efficiently generated somewhere else. Being green comes at a cost," said Enderle.

A voicemail left for a Salesforce spokesperson was not returned in time for publication.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

Tags: cloud computing, SaaS, Salesforce, carbon footprint, green IT

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