Organizations of all sizes are increasingly leveraging cloud technology to digital transformation and scaling up. However, cloud sustainability has also become a key driver for migration, as the cloud can support organizations’ sustainability initiatives through better energy consumption and efficiency.
An important promise of the cloud is that organizations only pay for what they consume. In addition, cloud data centers are also typically more efficient than on-premises or customer-operated data center operations, where servers are not always fully utilized.
While the cloud can help organizations reduce the impact of their IT operations on the climate, it is often not the main reason an organization is moving to the cloud.
“I’ve never heard a CEO say they wanted to move to the cloud for sustainability reasons,” said Rahul Subramaniam, CEO of CloudFixtold ITPro today† “Cloud use is very much linked to accelerating the pace of innovation and reducing costs, while sustainability benefits are only discovered and realized after the fact.”
Crossroads of cloud and sustainability
A long-held promise of the cloud is efficiency, which delivers strong benefits when it comes to sustainability initiatives.
For some organizations, there is a clear intersection of cloud and sustainability initiatives. A 2021 report of CloudBolt Software found that 68% of IT leaders surveyed said a cloud provider’s sustainability initiatives are an important factor in determining who they will do business with.
“They are well aware of the problem of increased carbon emissions from data centers and are trying to reduce it as much as possible while still accelerating innovation and automation,” said Jeff Kukowski, CEO of CloudBolt Software. ITPro today† “One of the most encouraging results from the survey was that 79% said they would actually pay a premium to do business with a cloud vendor with demonstrable sustainability practices.”
Cloud sustainability and energy consumption are becoming increasingly important for businesses in general. In a Google command worldwide research of the 2,000 IT leaders led by IDG, 90% of respondents said sustainability is a priority and/or measure of performance for their IT department.
“As the call for sustainable practices grows, we see more and more customers seeking ways to make sustainable computing choices,” said Justin Keeble, general manager of global sustainability at Google. ITPro today†
How organizations can measure cloud sustainability and energy consumption
A number of easily accessible tools are already available to help organizations adopt the cloud as part of their sustainability initiatives.
“Choosing suppliers who are committed to carbon reduction and put that into practice is a great first step that the majority of IT leaders are taking,” said CloudBolt’s Kukowski. “AWS, [Microsoft] Azure and GCP [Google Cloud Platform] are all quite vocal about their commitment to CO2 reduction, and they offer various monitoring tools to measure and reduce energy consumption.”
The Big 3 public cloud providers all have some form of service to show organizations how cloud use impacts sustainability and the environment. Google has the Carbon Footprint DashboardMicrosoft has the Emissions impact dashboard† and AWS has the Customer carbon footprint tool†
For IT executives, CIOs and others, the number one best practice for cloud sustainability is knowing the root cause of the organization’s climate impact and asking tough questions, said Mike Mattera, Akamai’s director of corporate sustainability. Questions that are asked include:
- Are we deployed in an optimized manner?
- Are we using hardware that is energy efficient?
- Are any of the processes we run in our deployed cloud operations causing a spike in CPU and disk usage, translating into power spikes?
All these things are important when thinking about sustainability and reducing the impact on the cloud climate, Mattera said.
“Accessing specific power consumption data from data center partners is the best way to convey authentic and transparent impact as companies work to reduce the impact,” he told ITPro today† †In most cases, customers are interested in environmental impacts with the aim of understanding ways to make their operations more efficient.”
Best practices for improving cloud sustainability
There are a number of key practices that organizations should consider to improve and advance sustainability efforts with cloud computing.
Understand the sustainability goals of cloud providers. To be essential to have a general understanding of exactly where a cloud provider deploys hardware; where operations will land; and the effectiveness of the power use, the effectiveness of the water use and the effectiveness of the carbon use of those operations, Mattera said. It is also paramount to understand that cloud provider’s sustainability goals and what it is doing to reduce the impact of those activities on its customers.
“As good technology managers, we all have a responsibility to do our part and reduce our environmental impact on the planet,” he said.
Look at the big picture† Each single cloud is often just one piece of a larger IT puzzle. When an enterprise has a single overarching framework that provides complete visibility and interoperability across all clouds and on-premises systems, it can see and analyze all data and metrics needs from one place, and then target areas for increased efficiency, CloudBolt’s Kukowski said. This allows organizations to take three key carbon-saving measures: 1) reduce shadow IT, 2) automate cost audits and notifications, and 3) optimize continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD).
Bring engineering and sustainability teams together. Fully integrating sustainability and IT teams with other functional teams across the organization, such as procurement, finance or marketing teams, can help maximize the efficiency with which a company seizes its opportunities for greater sustainability, Google’s Keeble said.
“As is the case with our Etsy customers, the close collaboration between engineering and sustainability teams has helped Etsy reduce energy consumption and supply their market with 100% renewable electricity,” he said.
Defining Shared Statistics† A practical way to incorporate sustainability into project goals is to decide on a shared metric, Keeble said. Just as IT departments would design application availability metrics, they can also design environmental metrics.
“At Google Cloud, we tend to distill IT impact into carbon emissions,” he said. “For clients like L’Oréal, the ability to use a tool like Carbon Footprint and measuring their gross carbon emissions in the cloud allows them to track the impact of their sustainability principles and architecture decisions downstream.”
Create a magical moment for sustainability. When striving for sustainability, it is important to influence different target groups in the IT organization. Creating a “magic moment” for a particular audience can prompt them to make a sustainable choice, according to Keeble.
“One of the ways we look at this at Google Cloud is by thinking about the developer workflow in our console and by emphasizing green choices like regions with lower carbon content as users create their assets,” he said. “Businesses and organizations need better data, greater transparency and bold action to create the changes we urgently need.”