Introducing a Better Way to Measure the Cloud’s Environmental Performance

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At salesforce.com, our goal is to operate the world’s most sustainable cloud. We’re also committed to helping our customers, and all other IT buyers, evaluate IT sustainability in a way that’s based on measuring results rather than merely monitoring activity. To that end, we’re proposing carbon per transaction as the cloud performance metric that can best guide customer choice as the cloud becomes the dominant IT model.

Last year, our multi-tenant architecture processed 63 percent more transactions — including Chatter posts, Radian6 searches, and edits to contact records—than in 2010. Yet, we are proud to announce the average amount of carbon produced per transaction dropped from .10 grams in 2010 to .08 grams in 2011[1], a decrease of 20%! 

Carbon Per Transaction - Small

Our ability to decrease our carbon per transaction metric is a result of our relentless commitment to energy-efficient architecture.  Last year, our team eliminated idle server capacity and invested in cutting-edge server infrastructure to improve the efficiency of our entire service.    

It is extremely difficult to compare the environmental impact different technology services have on our world.  For example, in the enterprise software space alone, technology can be delivered on-premise (single tenant architecture), through a private cloud (virtualized single tenant architecture) or via multi-tenant cloud computing like salesforce.com. Last year, we determined that our multi-tenant model was 95% less carbon-intensive than on-premise software, with 64% less CO2 footprint than even the latest ‘private cloud’ installations. (read more about that here – 2011 whitepaper)

Multi-tenant cloud providers have yet to standardize on the best way to measure impact.  Google, Facebook and others currently consider everything from data center efficiency to the renewable energy investments and the percentage of carbon emissions they offset .

We think the carbon per transaction metric levels the playing field. While different technology models will yield different transactions, all data centers exist to process some kind of customer transactions. Too many measures of IT ‘greenness’ ignore this.  They treat every step in an IT operation as if it were equally useful, but running a data center this way is like driving a car with a tachometer but no speedometer. It’s measuring the efficiency of the machine, but ignoring the efficiency of the process.

Cloud models radically streamline core IT operations, as well as performing those operations more efficiently. Measuring the carbon output per transaction therefore offers a far more illuminating comparison than every other measure in common use today.

We urge other IT leaders to join us by releasing their carbon per transaction metrics so the industry as a whole can reflect on whether we are living up to the cloud’s sustainability potential.

[1] Based on a 2012 refresh of our assessment of the carbon emissions of our cloud, performed with WSP Environment and Energy using the same methodology from our 2011 whitepaper.