Cloud Computing

How Sustainable is the Cloud?

Emily-Jane Rafferty
How Sustainable is the Cloud?

The climate crisis simply cannot be ignored. As we refresh our social media feeds in recent weeks, we see the shocking truths of the continuous dieback of the Amazon rainforest, floods in the UK affecting vulnerable communities, the pollution of our oceans with dumped toxic waste, and annually rising temperatures. There is a great need for sustainability. We live in a time where news and information spread fast, take Netflix's hit documentary Seaspiracy as an example, which gives people the incentive to change the small ways they live their lives to make sustainable choices.

When considering migrating to the cloud, there are numerous quantifiable benefits ranging from cost savings, simplified management, to improved computing capabilities. The eco-friendly aspect of the cloud is often overlooked. In this article, the sustainable impact of the cloud will be explored.

Today, a technology revolution is taking place and it is transforming life as we know it. Many are scaling this impact under the name of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Therefore, cloud computing is not just a ‘technological thing’, but it has a huge impact on both society and the natural environment. Cloud computing makes it possible to collect, analyze, and store huge quantities of data, which reduces the total cost of ownership of IT and increases business agility. Let’s take a closer look at these eco-friendly reasons of what makes the cloud sustainable:

Remote Work and Dematerialization

Using the cloud not only makes remote work a possibility, but it is the ‘backbone’ of remote work, according to Forbes. With the aid of the cloud, there is no need for many employees to travel by car and public transport into the workplace. Less travel to work by car equates to a decreased use of petroleum, a non-renewable fossil fuel.

Furthermore, dematerialization can take place through the cloud. This is the substitution of high carbon physical products with virtual equivalents. An international company that is holding a conference can invite people from all around the globe without the need for them to fly over. This can save thousands and thousands of air miles and prevent carbon dioxide emissions from airplanes. Virtual meetings can take place through cloud applications and attendees can share their screens and email documents as opposed to faxing them and printing them off.

It is the cloud applications and services that allow workplaces and organizations to work remotely regardless of each employee’s geographical location. For example, the real-time communication platforms of  Slack and Microsoft Teams are invaluable for enabling instant communications throughout an entire organization.

For the best remote style of work, companies need to examine what cloud apps and services are worth investing in. VUSE can help your cloud migration journey for a remote team, with sustainability in mind.

Saving Physical Space

Migrating to the cloud requires fewer machines and hardware meaning less physical space is required for companies. What is the end result? Lower energy costs of powering those machines and freeing up capital that can be used for other projects. A Smart 2020 report estimates that within five years, information technology-enabled energy efficiency will translate into approximately $946.5 billion worth of cost savings. There is always pressure to find ways to cut costs, and cloud computing not only does this, but it allows businesses to rethink their spending through a sustainable lens. Businesses and organizations can help reduce the consumption of energy, mitigate their carbon footprint, and contribute to a global effort to reach climate targets.

Using Full Capacity with a Cloud-Native Approach

Similarly, whilst migrating to the cloud saves physical space, it also ensures that full capacity is consistently used. The hyper-scale data centers that power the cloud can achieve better PUEs (power usage effectiveness) than typical enterprise data centers.  Many businesses are very unlikely to be using the full capacity of their server. But with the cloud, server capacity is shared between multiple businesses and organizations. By allocating and sharing resources, all machines are utilized, and less energy is wasted. Moreover, infrastructure technologies in hyper-scale data centers reduce electricity requirements for overhead tasks such as lighting, cooling, and power conditioning.

It is through a cloud-native approach to cloud migration that sustainability can be prioritized. According to the InfoWorld blog by Andy Patrizio, “cloud-native is an approach to building and running applications that exploit the advantages of the cloud computing delivery model. “Cloud-native” is about how applications are created and deployed, not where.” For example, as part of VUSE’s migration services, we leverage data from discovery and analysis, assess your business needs, identify opportunities and recommend the optimal unique cloud migration strategy for your business. It is custom-made for you. Following this strategy, at VUSE we build disruptive digital experiences and products that meet your business needs.

Why is this sustainable? In a report by Accenture, a cloud-native approach can stretch carbon emission reduction to 98%. Customization is a key component of a cloud-native migration and it requires designing applications to take full advantage of on-demand computing, higher asset utilization rates, and dynamic allocation of computing resources.

Evidence of Energy Efficiency

In that same Accenture report, their analysis of the largest public cloud service providers showed that large enterprises migrating to the cloud can lead to an impressive 65% energy reduction and 84% carbon reduction. While small businesses may not be hugely affected by the energy savings, they could achieve without maintaining in-house servers; large data centers would clearly see vast energy savings with a cloud-based system.

In 2020, Microsoft Corporation partnered with WSP to create ‘The Carbon Benefits of Cloud Computing’ report. In this report, they investigated the environmental impact of the cloud by completing a life cycle assessment:

Raw material extraction and assembly: This includes the energy consumption and emissions associated with the use of the raw materials and the assembly of servers, networking equipment, and hard drives.

Transportation: Transportation represents all energy consumption and emissions associated with transporting IT equipment and servers from the manufacturer to on-premise data centers

Use: This part of the life cycle of the cloud encompasses the energy consumption and emissions from electricity used to run the servers, networking equipment, hard drives, and datacenter infrastructure. It can include lighting, cooling, and power conditioning.

End-of-life disposal: This final stage includes the end-of-life energy consumption and carbon emissions that occur with landfilling and recycling, based on conservative assumptions about recycling rates.

Life Cycle Phases
Life Cycle Assessment
The life cycle phases used to define the boundary of energy consumption and carbonemissions considered in the analysis.

The results of this study revealed significant energy efficiency improvements when switching from traditional enterprise data centers to the cloud.

The news we see about the climate crisis is often dire and frightening but climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, are frequently encouraging us that our individual actions and choices have incredible consequences: “The first thing I have learned is that you are never too small to make a difference.”

Companies beginning their cloud journey confront many questions: Which cloud provider is best? How can we prioritize sustainability? How should applications be modernized to meet the needs of the future? Why not contact VUSE to get those questions answered.

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