The cloud is pushing data centers toward energy efficiency.

Cloud-based software services have transformed lives and business workflows all across the world. Although the impact on individuals is easily seen by the sheer number of people who use file sharing services and cloud-based software applications, the impacts on data centers and other businesses can be less obvious.

But for those in the know, such as energy efficiency consultancy firm CLEAResult, the future of energy-efficient computing lies in the cloud. This is one reason why the company recently acquired Green Team Energy Services, a cloud-based energy efficiency program tracking software.

It’s not surprising that CLEAResult has been successful enough with its energy efficiency consulting services to be able to acquire another company. Back in 2013, when General Atlantic invested in the CLEAResult, they knew they were supporting a high-growth organization with a service that would be very much in demand.

“At GA, we think of ourselves not only as investors, but also as company builders,” said General Atlantic CEO William E. Ford in a recent interview with Leaders magazine. “For us, the fun of what we do is both identifying superb, high-growth companies and rolling our sleeves up and working closely with them to help take their businesses to the next level.”

“As our clients’ industry evolves, leading-edge technology applications for energy efficiency have taken on tremendous importance,” said Aziz Virani, CLEAResult CEO. “[Green Team’s] technology will allow us to further increase the value we are able to create for our clients as the leading provider of energy efficiency programs.”

Among the biggest energy efficiency offenders are traditional data centers. Between the cooling required to keep the average data center’s servers running and the power drawn by the servers themselves, a single data center could use many thousands of kilowatt hours of energy each month.

In fact, in 2014, U.S. data centers used a whopping 70 billion kilowatt hours of energy. To put this number in perspective, that’s about the amount consumed by 6.4 million average American homes.

Luckily, data centers are already taking big steps toward achieving energy efficiency. A 2016 study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that over the past five years, efficiency at giant data centers, such as those used by Google and Amazon, has kept energy usage almost flat despite a huge growth in demand for computing power.

However, smaller data centers are still working to gain ground in terms of efficiency. They are projected to account for 60 percent of all data center energy usage by 2020. “The industry growth is primarily in hyperscale data centers, but there’s opportunity in the typical corporate or institutional data center,” said Berkeley Laboratory study author Dale Sartor. “There are millions of them in closets or small rooms, and they’re not very efficient.”

This problem can be addressed with power management and reducing the amount of time that servers are sitting idle. Some of this involves a process known as virtualization, a trend that has driven the surge of cloud services. “The cloud is certainly one of the drivers to more energy efficiency,” Sartor said. “In a cloud environment, whoever is the lowest cost provider is going to win. Energy is one of the easier things to optimize.”

Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure at Google, says that as more IT users transition to public clouds, total energy usage will decrease further.

“The cloud supports many products at a time, so it can more efficiently distribute resources among many users,” he wrote in a post on Google’s blog. “In 2013, the Berkeley Lab published research…indicating that moving all office workers in the United States to the cloud, we could reduce the energy used by information technology by up to 87 percent. That’s equal to powering the city of Los Angeles for one year.”

With the importance of cloud-based services as a means of delivering increased energy efficiency in a cost effective way, CLEAResult could help data centers become leaders in a greener future.