With much of the U.S. and many other parts of the world suffering record temperatures and other extreme weather events, it’s worth considering efforts that companies are making to reduce carbon and other emissions as part of their Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) strategies.
Yet the increasing role that energy-intensive cloud computing plays in numerous business and consumer services, as well as burgeoning new opportunities, including training generative AI platforms, is leaving many businesses wondering how they can balance innovation with sustainability.
What can cloud vendors do to help enterprises gain insights into and reduce business-related carbon emissions?
The new IBM Cloud Carbon Calculator is an interesting new solution that should interest customers leveraging cloud for workloads, including artificial intelligence, high-performance computing (HPC) and financial services.
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Squeezing Carbon out of the Cloud
Why is the impact of enterprise and cloud data centers on green house gases (GHG) so important? According to the International Energy Association (IEA), the estimated electricity consumption by global data centers in 2022 was 240-340 TWh, or around 1-1.3% of global final electricity demand. That doesn’t include the energy used for cryptocurrency mining, which was estimated to be around 110 TWh in 2022.
Compare that to recent (2018-2019) data mostly compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Association, which shows that when measuring total energy consumed, global data centers as a group would be in the top 20 energy-using countries. Add in crypto mining, and global data centers would qualify as #11, just behind France.
Energy consumption is one thing, but a larger issue is how that energy is being generated. Despite the continuing, rapid progress of renewable energy sources, like solar, wind and geothermal technologies, carbon-based sources, including oil, coal and natural gas remain the largest sources for global power generation. Moreover, climactic shifts are negatively impacting many traditional renewable power sources, especially hydroelectric facilities.
In other words, the need to reduce GHG emissions has reached the crisis point.
Why Businesses Care about Sustainability
Why does this concern enterprises and the executives who lead them?
A majority of people and organizations in the U.S. believe that global warming poses an existential threat and that GHG emissions must be curtailed. Plus, consumers and businesses alike want to do business with companies that are committed to solving these challenges and creating a more sustainable future.
In fact, a recent study by IBM’s Institute for Business Value found that over half of CEOs surveyed pinpointed environmental sustainability as their top challenge over the next three years.
Additionally, regions around the world are moving aggressively to address climate issues. Sustainability is a core principle of the Treaty on European Union (EU), and in November 2022, the European Commission (EC) adopted the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (“CSRD”), which significantly broadens the scope of sustainability reporting requirements for companies doing business in the EU.
Overall, any commercial organization that does business globally must adopt sustainability goals that are in line with local governments and address their customers’ and partners’ needs. That includes the owners of public cloud computing platforms and services.
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IBM Cloud Carbon Calculator
How is IBM contributing to and advancing carbon reduction solutions? The company describes the new Cloud Carbon Calculator as an AI-informed dashboard designed to help clients access usage data based on emissions trends and patterns across IBM Cloud services and locations. The company believes the tool will be especially valuable for clients leveraging processing intensive workloads, such as AI, HPC and financial services.
In essence, the new solution is designed to spot data anomalies, outliers and patterns that may be causing unwanted or unnecessary carbon emissions. Built on technology from IBM Research and via a collaboration with Intel, the Cloud Carbon Calculator uses machine learning (ML) and advanced algorithms to reveal computing “hot spots” that are exceeding customers’ emissions targets. It also provides insights that help clients address those issues and bring them into line with emissions strategies.
The solution is designed to give IBM Cloud clients easy access to standards-based cloud emissions data and includes:
- Track emissions across various workloads down to the cloud service level, enabling clients to visualize and track GHG emissions associated with individual cloud services and locations in accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. The solution will support the most commonly used classic and cloud native infrastructure services, with more service coverage planned quarterly.
- Identify emissions hot-spots and opportunities for improvement, including analyzing GHG emissions by month, quarter and year, enabling enterprises to track their GHG emissions progress. By having ready, consistent access to that data, clients can adjust their strategies in near real time to optimize workloads across locations and ultimately help reduce emissions.
- Leverage data for GHG standards-based reports and audit trails to help address reporting requirements. Additionally, enterprises can also integrate their emissions data into the IBM Envizi ESG Suite for further analysis and enable reporting.
According to the company, the IBM Cloud Carbon Calculator complements its existing portfolio of sustainability solutions and consulting expertise, including the IBM Envizi ESG Suite, IBM Turbonomic, IBM Planning Analytics and IBM LinuxONE, that help organizations set, operationalize and achieve their sustainability goals.
In addition to IBM, cloud companies and platforms including AWS, Microsoft/Azure and Google Cloud have also responded to the growing importance of sustainability with a variety of tools that help customers to understand and manage GHG emissions.
Overall, it is clear that major cloud vendors realize the importance of reducing GHG emissions and are dedicated to helping their businesses scrub the carbon out of their cloud-based workloads.
For more information, also see: Digital Transformation Guide
How does IBM’s new solution stack up against other solutions and support the company’s broader strategies and goals?
Of the three biggest public cloud players—AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud—the nearest competitor is likely Google Cloud’s Carbon Footprint, primarily due to that offering’s BigQuery analytics features. There are also similarities to Google Active Assist’s unattended project recommender that uses machine learning to estimate the gross carbon emissions that customers can save if they remove abandoned or idle cloud resources.
An intriguing point about the IBM Cloud Carbon Calculator is its use of AI to find and identify carbon-hungry data anomalies, outliers and patterns. Given the company’s deep AI expertise and its success in using machine learning and advanced algorithms to enhance its other services and solutions, it seems likely that the new solution will grab the attention of IBM’s enterprise customers.
However, the most important consideration is the way in which the new solution extends and enhances IBM’s hybrid cloud efforts and partnerships. The company was one of the first cloud vendors to make hybrid multi-cloud central to its overall strategy. Plus, it has continued to build on that position through strategic acquisitions, investment in open-source tools and communities and support for global and regional sustainability goals. This includes measurably reducing carbon and other GHG emissions.
The new solution should significantly enhance the performance both of IBM Cloud and the company’s hybrid cloud partners, including AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. Overall, the IBM Cloud Carbon Calculator appears to be a solid offering that will amply benefit IBM’s global customers and partners, as well as the company itself.
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