The study, led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and funded by Google, determined moving three kind of common software applications from local computer systems to centralized cloud services could cut information technology energy consumption by up to 87 percent -- about 23 billion kilowatt-hours.
The software involved were three common business applications -- email, customer relationship management software or CRM, and bundled productivity software (spreadsheets, file sharing, word processing, etc.).
A goal of the study was to develop a model that would allow both researchers and the general public to analyze the energy and carbon impacts of cloud computing.
"We can't fly by the seat of our pants when it comes to assessing sustainability," said lead study author Eric Masanet of Northwestern University, which was also involved in the study.
"We need numbers -- hard data -- to properly analyze how cloud computing compares to how computing is done now."
In developing the model, the researchers said, they used the best available and credible data based on typical industry practices.
"What we found overall is that by hosting services on the cloud as opposed to locally, the savings are pretty robust," Masanet said in a Northwestern release Tuesday.