When thinking of the largest carbon emitters, many think of highways full of trucks or manufacturing plants with large plumes of smoke trailing above them. Rarely do we think of IT. Yet IT services, including data centers, cloud, networking, and end-user devices account for an estimated 2% of U.S. carbon emissions, similar to the aviation industry.
As the world’s reliance on IT services grows, so will the need for sustainable practices to reduce the environmental impact. Having a sustainability plan is not only imperative to protect the world’s resources and meet regulatory requirements. It’s also needed to align with ethical standards and mindsets.
Reducing Environmental Impact of IT Workloads
Set a Goal
As is the case for every digital transformation effort, getting the buy-in, support, and vision from the organization’s leadership is important. As your business grows, so will your energy consumption.
An example of a good metric to set is: Reduce your energy intensity by 25% within five years. Energy intensity can be defined as the proportion of energy consumed compared to the size of the business. Just take a look at Etsy, a visionary in this space, as it set such goals back in 2017.
Know Your Current Footprint
Hunting for forgotten, unused cloud resources can be very efficient. It’s very easy to consume cloud computing resources, but it takes discipline and organization to shut them down when no longer needed.
The cloud can offer very detailed pricing per resource, which makes it easier to spot unused resources. If resources are tagged well, owners are identified, and workloads are separated in different accounts, it can be easy to spot them.
Take out a few hours of your time to identify and shut down the resources you no longer need. Not only will this improve your fiscal position once you remove unnecessary expenses, you’ll also be able to reduce your carbon footprint without losing anything in return.
Also see: Top Digital Transformation Companies
Migrate to the Cloud
Smaller data center providers often don’t have the capital to invest in green energy. But we’re seeing more cloud providers make big investments to meet their sustainability goals. By migrating workloads to the cloud, you can reduce your carbon footprint and leverage the cloud provider efficiency.
When selecting a cloud provider, make sure to consider their current status and future commitment to running on green energy as part of the decision process. Many are catching up to the present, but not every cloud provider is equipped to be sustainable in the future.
Organizations migrating to the cloud by lift-and-shift (where there is no workload transformation) can immediately reduce their energy consumption by 10–15%, which is a great place to start. But to further reduce consumption and environmental impact, true transformation of the workload is necessary.
Also see: Top Cloud Companies
Understand the Environmental Impact of Your Workloads
Google, Microsoft Azure, and AWS all have built-in cloud native tools that measure their respective carbon footprints. While not everyone has the same power and resources as these tech giants, you can initiate sustainability plans by understanding the following variables:
- Cloud Service Provider Usage: The time that cloud resources are used (compute, storage, networking). This data can be obtained from the billing reports or from the usage APIs such as CloudWatch and CostExplorer in AWS.
- Cloud Energy Conversion Factors: The energy consumed by the cloud resources deployed by your organization, measured in Watts. The factor is different for each type of resource (for instance, EC2, Lambda).
- Cloud Provider Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE): Indicates how efficient a cloud provider is with its uses of energy. A PUE of 1 would mean all energy is used for computing and is not wasted in cooling.
- Grid Emissions Factors: Each cloud provider region uses local energy to power their infrastructure. It can be produced from a combination of various sources: coal, nuclear, wind, gas, and solar. Each region produces a different amount of CO2 for each kWh generated. The unit for this variable is gCO2eq/kWh-gram of CO2 equivalent for each kWh.
- Embodied Emissions: Represents the additional emissions generated by the manufacturing and disposal of cloud resources. For an application using resources for a long time, this will represent a very small fraction of the total carbon emissions. In a cloud environment where resources can be shared, this type of emission is much lower than on-premises where resources are dedicated since the CO2 is already emitted regardless of whether resources are used.
The ability to change these variables depends on where an organization is in their cloud transformation journey. If you have already deployed apps in a cloud provider and region, the easiest way to be more sustainable might be to modify the infrastructure and app architecture to lower your energy consumption. If you have not selected a cloud provider and region yet, the PUE and grid emissions factors are the variables to take into consideration.
Transform Your Workloads
As previously stated, cloud migration should not be the only, or final, step in the process. Until cloud providers fulfill their commitments to green energy, IT workloads will continue to emit carbon. Effective reduction of consumption relies on adopting modern architecture, which is more cost effective, reliable, and secure than legacy architecture, as cloud resources only run when needed.
Upgrading the application code SDK (software development kit) can make a significant difference as well. For example, migrating an app from an older .NET framework to .NET 5 allows you to run the same app with a much smaller footprint. Another option is to migrate to ARM processors, which consume less energy for the same performance than comparable technology.
Preparing to Outperform
IT is rapidly redefining enterprise workloads. With this comes a need for an effective sustainability plan. With greater knowledge, understanding, and adoption of modern resources and architecture, the enterprises that run highly environmentally efficient workloads are likely to be the ones that have deeply transformed and modernized IT. In other words, they will be the ones to outperform their competition and survive in the future.
About the Author:
Matt Buchner, Senior Director of Digital Architecture at NTT DATA Services