Gmail: Greener Than Your Email?

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A Google analysis of the carbon footprint of Gmail versus typical self-hosted email servers.

For small businesses, using a web-based email service can eliminate the headaches associated with operating your own email server. It can also be better for the environment, according to Google, which has released a case study outlining the energy and carbon savings from using its Gmail service. In fact, Google argues, the scale of its highly-optimized data centers makes Gmail substantially more energy efficient than all but the most advanced corporate data centers.

It’s not surprising that Google makes a business case for the cloud computing model. But the case study, Google’s Green Computing: Efficiency at Scale (PDF), offers estimates on the per-user energy required to deliver email in several infrastructure scenarios.

“Our size, focus, and ability to optimize across barriers translates into a series of distinct advantages for our servers hosting cloud-based email,” Google writes. “Optimizing the entire process of storing, hosting and serving email means that Gmail requires less than 250 mW per user. Over the course of a year, that’s just a bit more than 2 kWh of energy, or about $0.22 per user per year, representing significant savings over the locally hosted alternatives.”

The most compelling differences in energy usage are seen in comparisons between Google’s infrastructure and small business servers. But the energy savings are still substantial when compared to data centers running at a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.6, well below the average of 1.9.

Annual energy usage required to manage email for several data center scenarios. Click for larger image.

Of course, cost and reliability are the primary metrics for companies considering whether to outsource their email. For those looking at the next tier of decision points, the Google study offers some useful data.

For more details, check out the full case study. There’s also a summary on the Official Google Blog.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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