What is Green Cloud Storage & Which Providers Offer It in 2021?

Branko VlajinAleksander Hougen
By Branko Vlajin (Writer) & Aleksander Hougen (Editor)
— Last Updated: 2021-04-15T20:25:19+00:00

Cloud storage is a type of service that can supplement your hard drive capacity and increase productivity. It does that by offering you a simple way to store your data in the cloud while providing you quick access. That‘s pretty convenient, but the services might not be eco-friendly, so in this article we’ll see which ones are get you some green cloud storage.

First, though, we have to add that cloud storage services can do more than just store your data. Their key features — such as file sharing and device synchronization, or “sync” for short — help improve collaboration, making these tools ideal for businesses, especially those that rely on remote work.

Many cloud storage services also let you take notes, recover deleted files, chat, share calendars, assign tasks and edit documents in real time with collaborators. 

If you’re looking to create an effective online environment for collaboration, you should start by consulting our list of the best EFSS (enterprise file sync and share) services.

Now that we’ve defined what cloud storage is, we’re going to see what makes these services environmentally friendly.

What Makes Cloud Storage Green?

Cloud storage data centers are designed to store data efficiently. The main difference between them and on-premise servers is their amount of resource utilization. 

On-premise servers operate, on average, at 12 to 18 percent capacity, while cloud data center servers can reach a maximum of 40 to 70 percent of utilization, with the average being from 10 to 50, according to a 2014 energy efficiency report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit U.S. organization. 

Increased server utilization in cloud storage data centers stems from the fact that these data centers use virtualization technology. 

Virtualization enables multiple applications — each in its own virtual environment — to be run on a single physical server. This greatly reduces the number of servers and the amount of energy required to run a given number of applications.

The amount of power used is a major factor in evaluating efficiency, and the most common metric for that is “power usage effectiveness,” or PUE. The average PUE in 2019 for the global data center industry, according to the Uptime Institute, was 1.67 (lower is better), which represents an increase from 2018’s 1.58

However, having many servers requires a lot of power, which in turn increases their cost. This motivates some large-scale cloud providers to be more energy efficient than that global average. 

Thanks to that, some services, such as Google, report a PUE of just 1.11. Plus, large data centers have more effective cooling, which, again, helps reduce power usage.

To recap, cloud storage data centers are inherently more green than on-premise data centers. Companies can reduce their carbon footprint simply by moving their data to a cloud provider’s data center, where they will use fewer resources and optimize their efficiency.

Green Cloud Storage Services

In this section, we’re going to list all the services that fit the factors we’ve mentioned in the previous section. The first one, in no particular order, is Google Drive.

Google Drive

As we mentioned, Google’s data centers are one of the most energy-efficient out there, and that includes its cloud storage service, Google Drive. Specifically, Google achieves great power-usage results thanks to custom, highly efficient servers that waste less power. 

On top of that, Google uses inexpensive ways to manage cooling, reuses old hardware and recycles what it can’t reuse.

Google Drive Web Interface
Google Drive Sync Folder
Google Drive Google Docs
Google Drive Create Link
Google Drive Network Settings

Google Drive is a good choice if you need to work online on office files and share them with co-workers. It also has one of the best customer support services on the market. 

Google has many plans, and most of them provide a great value. Its web client and mobile apps are streamlined and easy to use. Plus, Google Drive has a network of servers that spans the globe, which helps it reach fast speeds. You can learn more about what Google Drive offers in our Google Drive review.

Amazon Drive

Another big name in the tech industry, Amazon, is far from a stranger to green technology. It’s PUE is less than 1.2, and Amazon claims more than 50 percent of its energy is derived from renewable sources. It’s easy to see how it can accomplish that because it uses six solar farms and three wind farms. Plus, Amazon has announced four new wind farm projects and one solar farm.

Amazon Cloud Drive Review Homepage Screenshot

Amazon Drive has decent features, which include file and photo previews, along with video playback. It also has some of the best pricing plans on the market. You can get 100GB for only $1 per month or a hefty 1TB for only $5 per month.

Thanks to Amazon’s global network of servers, Amazon Drive will quickly upload your data to the cloud. We also like how its web and mobile clients are attractive and easy to use. Amazon Drive also has decent sharing capabilities. You can read more about it in our Amazon Drive review.

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft achieved carbon neutrality in 2012 and has an average PUE of 1.125 for any new data center. Microsoft is also dedicated to sustainability, so it reuses and recycles products and makes its products sustainable. It also reuses waste and responsibly disposes of what it can’t use.

Microsoft is also working on “project Natick,” which would eventually see micro data centers powered by renewable energy dropped on the seafloor.

OneDrive Web Interface Files
OneDrive Sync Folder Slider
OneDrive App Launcher
OneDrive Create Link File Sharing
OneDrive Word Online

Microsoft’s environmentally friendly practices include its Microsoft Azure data centers, which power Microsoft OneDrive, it’s cloud storage service.

OneDrive gives you access to Office Online, Skype, Outlook, OneNote (see our OneNote review to learn more about the note-taking app) and many other features from the Redmond-based giant. You won’t have to empty your wallet to use it, either, because OneDrive’s plans have fair prices. The 1TB plan will set you back only $6 per month.

Plus, we like how attractive its desktop, web and mobile clients are. They’re straightforward and won’t give you issues. You can also share and collaborate on files while having capable file-sharing security. For more information about OneDrive’s sharing, read our OneDrive review.

Dropbox

Another cloud storage staple that is making moves toward more environmentally sustainable practices is Dropbox (check out our Dropbox review). Although we couldn’t find any current numbers on its PUE, Dropbox announced just last year that they have set new “sustainability goals” for 2030.

This initiative contains four core goals, and for simplicity’s sake we’ll start off by just quoting them here:

  • Achieve carbon neutrality for scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3 business travel emissions
  • Source 100% renewable energy for our operations, including our data centers
  • Support organizations working for climate action
  • Mobilize employees to use volunteer-time-off for environmental causes

As you can see, the goals are mostly pretty vague. Goal number three and four especially could amount to just about anything. The real meat of the commitment here lies in goal number two, as shifting the entirety of Dropbox’s user base (estimated at around 600 million users) would be a pretty big deal.

Although Dropbox doesn’t publish any PUE numbers like other companies we’ve discussed here, a study on the differences between distributed and centralized cloud storage estimated that Dropbox’s data centers use roughly the same amount of electricity as the country of Luxembourg. We won’t get into the precise math — check out the actual study for that.

Obviously it remains to be seen whether or not Dropbox can actually succeed at these goals, and some more transparency on its end will be crucial to assess the progress.

Final Thoughts

Placing your data in the cloud has benefits that not only help you be more productive and take up less space on your computers but also reduce your carbon footprint. You don’t have to search hard for a green service because most of the big names in the tech (and cloud) industry have already reduced their carbon footprint.

We’ve outlined several services in this article, and most of them are featured on our cloud storage comparison list. If you’re still not sure what’s the best service for you, though, consult our guide on the best cloud storage services. We also have an article that details the best cloud storage for nonprofits.

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Large-scale data centers are more energy efficient, but according to The Independent, the expanding data center industry will consume three times as much energy in the next decade, so an increased effort to meet the new requirements will be necessary. 

What do you think about green cloud storage and its future? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading.