The use of cloud services is flourishing and has become the driving force in digital transformation. But is this growth sustainable? And is the cloud climate-friendly? A look on how companies can reduce their carbon footprint by building better cloud infrastructures.
Thinking about clouds, most people might associate the word with ease, softness and weightlessness. In terms of cloud computing, however, the cloud is a real heavyweight when looking at its energy consumption. As SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, cloud data warehouses, artificial intelligence or smart enterprise solutions are adopted rapidly and start to change the IT landscape, data centers around the world are hard at work. According to a study by the German Bitkom association, the energy requirements of German data centers and smaller IT installations rose from 10.5 to 16 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) per year between 2010 and 2020. By 2030, demand is expected to increase by 3.5 to 5 percent per year to 23 to 29 billion kWh.
Azure, AWS, GCP: Energy efficiency in the data center
So while digitization may help to solve current problems around climate change and our environmental impact in the world, it’s not a secret that it also drives up energy consumption, and consequently, CO2 emissions. The major cloud providers are aware of this issue and have taken on responsibility by launching new sustainable initiatives. Microsoft, for example, is planning to use entirely renewable energy sources in its cloud data centers by 2025. Azure Enterprise customers already can view their carbon footprint of each Azure subscription via the Microsoft Sustainability Calculator and identify savings with regard to their workloads and instances. Amazon offers a very similar solution with its Customer Carbon Footprint Tool in the AWS Cloud. And Google is working feverishly to make its data centers and sites completely CO2-free.
Two Steps to Sustainable Cloud Computing
Top vendors have started developing a green cloud computing strategy and are viewing sustainable business practices as a key corporate imperative. But what can companies do to be more sustainable on their digital transformation journey? There are two steps to be digital and green at the same time: First, companies should move to a climate-friendly cloud infrastructure (cloud migration). Secondly, they need to continuously manage and adapt their cloud assets in order to streamline their cloud usage and adapt to the actual demand (cloud optimization). Let’s take a closer look at these two steps.
Moving from many on-premises servers to a few large cloud data centers can reduce IT energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions. There are three reasons for this:
- Smart infrastructure
- Modern infrastructure technologies in hyperscale data centers reduce energy consumption through energy-efficient air conditioning, energy-efficient devices/servers and new concepts for waste heat utilization, among other things
- Higher operational efficiency
- Unlike oversized private data centers, the cloud data center consolidates usage and can guarantee consistently high utilization; as a result, the public cloud is usually two to four times more efficient
- Better hardware
- Power consumption represents a significant portion of cloud providers’ operating costs. Therefore, IT efficiency is a strong financial incentive to continuously optimize and streamline hardware components in terms of performance
Just moving to the cloud, however, is not enough. On the contrary, it’s a matter of sticking to it and working consistently on optimizing cloud use and thus also indirectly on one’s own CO2 footprint. In many respects, CO2 optimization is similar to cost optimization: those who budget correctly in the cloud can not only save money but also make a contribution in terms of green IT.
Best practices for on-demand SaaS and cloud instances
Take for example the number of IT assets that do not add real value (or ROI) to your company—the so called wasted cloud spend. These are assets that are hardly used or not used at all, and thus cause unnecessary costs. According to the State of ITAM Report , more than one-third of IT expenses do not yield any real added value. This is true for on-premises applications (38%) and data centers (34%) as well as for SaaS and IaaS/PaaS (33% each).
The cloud, with its agility, offers a good lever for making IT consumption in companies more sustainable and adapting it to changing needs. With SaaS, for example, it is worth comparing the SaaS instances provided with the actual use of this instance in the company. The discrepancy here is often shockingly large. Up to 30 percent of the SaaS instances provided are not used in the company, either because the employees have left or are working in different functions, or because the instances are not being used to their full functional extent. A precise usage analysis is central to redefining the deployment of SaaS instances
The same applies for cloud instances, which take up a lot of storage space and thus drive up not only costs but also the energy consumption of data centers. Many companies overshoot the mark here in line with the motto “the more the better” and populate virtual machines with plenty of RAM and CPU cores. The result is oversized instances that far exceed demand. There is still a lot of room for improvement here—especially when it comes to the degree of automation.
According to Flexera’s 2022 State of the Cloud Report, 44 percent of respondents still rely on manual processes to adapt cloud instances as required (keyword: rightsizing). Nevertheless, in view of the rising costs, more and more companies are now defining guidelines for cloud use. For example, they automatically shut down their workloads after business hours (40 percent) and set an upper limit for permitted instance sizes/types (80 percent).
There are other measures as well that companies can take to optimize their cloud usage:
- Removing zombie servers, unused SaaS, IaaS and PaaS applications
- Deprovisioning of unused storage capacity
- Rightsizing cloud resources
- Shutting down workloads at the end of the business day
- Prevent cloud sprawl and rogue SaaS
- Timely termination of cloud subscriptions
- Switching to climate-neutral cloud services/providers
IT visibility remains a basic requirement
Whether you want to follow the way of cloud migration or cloud optimization—in order to make decisions regarding sustainability in cloud computing—transparency is required across all IT assets in the company. IT visibility shows where users can change their consumption behavior and reveals both energy and cost-intensive assets in your IT portfolio. The first step here is a thorough inventory of all cloud assets. This applies not only to the cloud, but to all IT assets, including hardware and on-premises applications. For example, even in the case of hardware, it is not only the usage and costs of each individual server that need to be tracked, but also its power consumption and heat dissipation.
A holistic inventory analysis builds on consistent IT asset data. In the cloud, in turn, clean and consistent cloud tagging is fundamental. Metadata is added to cloud resources and reveals, among other things, which cloud service is used by which department and how high its utilization is. This allows important KPIs to be monitored and cloud assets to be continuously optimized. Automated tagging also detects where tags are missing or incorrect and where adjustments are necessary.
Flexera One for more transparency
Automated management tools are central to continuously optimizing companies’ hybrid IT landscapes in line with the Green Economy. Flexera One provides a centralized view of an organization’s entire IT estate, including SaaS and cloud. The holistic solution is based on the most comprehensive source of IT product data (Technopedia ) and creates an up-to-date and consistent foundation for data-driven decisions. This enables companies to not only reduce their costs, but also to operate in an economically and ecologically sustainable manner against the backdrop of the digital transformation.
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