Energy efficiency in the cloud seems to be among cloud engineers’ most discussed topics. But what are companies and organizations doing to bring more sustainability into their cloud networks? Here are some examples.
In today’s world, sustainability and innovation go hand in hand. And when it comes to revolutionizing cloud technologies, this is no exception. But, specifically, how can experts and decision-makers apply energy-efficient initiatives to their cloud…operations and all? This article deep dives into which cloud computing strategies and practices are paving the way to a stronger industry and a healthier planet.
What is exactly “green cloud computing”?
To think green is to put sustainability at the center. From reducing energy consumption to lowering carbon emissions, green cloud computing takes traditional computing and implements methods that limit the environmental impact of using this technology.
Is the cloud contaminated?
Does green cloud computing sound like the easy choice? Just like with any innovation, there are challenges to applying a new approach or system.
- Energy consumption
Although using green cloud computing has shown to lower electricity usage, what happens when there is an overall greater demand for energy? It’s simple economics: the higher the demand, the more energy will be supplied, thus neutralizing the benefits of being energy-efficient. And we must consider ALL of the energy consumed along the supply chain to get the full picture. We can’t forget about the energy used for processing and cooling data centers.
- Data centers
Sure data centers are an important player in promoting green cloud computing, but not all data centers are inherently sustainable. Compared to traditional data centers, cloud computing allows for smarter technologies that reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency. However, data centers can have poor waste management and consume a lot of energy, 200 terawatt hours a year all together to be exact! What happens to all of the air conditioners, batteries, and other parts that reach their lifespan? The equipment that is not used or recycled threatens the sustainability of the facility.
- Energy sources
As expected, the type of energy used by a data center is one of the most important factors in supporting green cloud computing. Just because a cloud provider is using renewable energy at one of its facilities does not mean that all do the same. When we take into consideration how much energy is consumed by data centers – or rather 3% of annual total energy consumption – it’s clear how important it is to know where that energy is coming from.
As identified by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, there are direct and indirect emissions to consider when calculating a company’s emissions, including cloud providers. These can comprise direct emissions from not optimizing temperature controls of data centers or even the indirect emissions from manufacturing the various tools and instruments used throughout the supply chain. Collectively, data centers can reach up to 0.3% of all carbon emissions per year!
Planning energy-efficient cloud computing technologies
According to a study conducted by the European Commission on energy-efficient cloud computing, there are different strategies for combating the increase in energy consumption as a result of the spread of cloud services.
- Raise awareness
When it comes to the public perception of clean technologies, the energy demand and consequential CO2 emissions of cloud computing is not up front and center like transportation, food production or construction. We don’t physically see the cloud every day. Companies should share their estimates on the environmental impact of cloud computing to bring this issue to the public, organizations, institutions, and the research community. For those with more cloud experience, such as providers, companies, universities and politicians, the focus should be on supporting research and training to advocate for the creation and application of energy-efficient processes and technologies.
- Setting standards
Establishing and applying universal standards is essential to facilitate collaboration. Innovating global metrics such as virtual smart meters can help companies to better understand the energy demand of cloud services. The study states that there should be a Code of Conduct to use as a reference framework for energy-efficient cloud computing along with a guideline of recommendations and support for cloud providers in planning, operating and innovating. Even establishing more recognition labels, like “ECO-cloud”, can promote sustainability for cloud service providers.
What are cloud giants doing for sustainability?
There are some important tech giants who are already ahead of the game spearheading clean solutions for cloud computing.
- Google Cloud
With 100% renewable energy used for all cloud regions, Google Cloud aims to run all of their data centers on carbon-free energy by 2030. They also follow a holistic approach based on circularity principles throughout their supply chain from the materials they use and products they create to the facilities and buildings where they work and operate. Not only have they been dedicated to responsible energy usage, they spread awareness, inspire innovation and facilitate funding to help other organizations shift to cleaner systems and develop solutions. For instance, there is Google For Startups Accelerator: Circular Economy and the Carbon Sense suite, which allows users to estimate their carbon emissions from utilizing Google Cloud.
Microsoft Azure promotes the development of new sustainable technologies to revolutionize the cloud. From creating new server cooling methods and grid-interactive UPS batteries to using cleaner fuels for data center backup generators, Microsoft is putting their solutions to the sustainability test. Among their goals, Azure plans to use 100% renewable energy by 2025, replenish more water than consumed by 2030 and become a certified zero-waste operation by 2030. Putting their commitments into practice, they even have their own “Datacentre Community Development” initiatives that lead local community projects to have a direct, positive impact on the environment.
- AWS Cloud
Nex there is Amazon Web Services, whose strategy is based on prioritizing power efficiency in the way that they design their infrastructures, including data centers and hardware, and also minimizing both energy and water consumption. They’ve invested in their own innovations like AWS-designed chips and the AWS Nitro System. Their AWS-designed Graviton3-based Elastic Compute Cloud uses up to 60% less energy. For their future goals, Amazon’s aim is to power their operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and become net-zero carbon by 2040. AWS also has a customer carbon footprint tool to allow users to measure their own carbon footprint from using AWS.
IBM Cloud’s top objectives for sustainability include procuring 75% of the electricity used by their data centers worldwide from renewable sources by 2025 and 90% by 2030. They are investing in research to find solutions that allow for placing containers strategically to optimize energy efficiency and dynamic workload scheduling based on the availability of clean energy. They are currently building tools to help estimate the carbon footprint of customer workloads in various environments, like multi-tenant, on IBM Cloud, in a hybrid cloud or on-premise data centers. One of their latest creations, the LinuxONE server platform, can potentially reduce energy consumption by 75% compared to traditional x86 architecture.
Green Best Practices for Cloud Engineers
What does this all mean for cloud engineers? It’s important now more than ever to start thinking sustainably when it comes to cloud networks. Below we’ve gathered some energy-efficient best practices that you can apply now.
- Investigate your organization’s sustainability status
Take time to evaluate the current approaches in place throughout the supply chain. Above all, understand how energy is consumed, the type of energy used, the amount of emissions released and how waste is managed. Once you define where your organization is at presently you can identify short and long-term goals and the steps to achieve them.
- Use sustainable suppliers and invest in newer and cleaner technologies
To become truly green, consider where there is room for green adjustments. Are your suppliers using renewable energy for their production? Do your current technologies follow the latest sustainability standards and recommendations? Every step and partner in the process plays a role in how green your company is, so even minor changes go a long way!
- Communicate how your company is going green
Spread the word! Not only does it inspire potential customers to partner with you and talents to collaborate with you, sharing the concrete actions your company is taking to tackle some of the environment’s biggest challenges makes your work even more gratifying.