How organizations can benefit from a sustainable cloud environment.

If data continues to grow at the current rate, by 2030 we are likely to exceed a yottabyte (a million trillion megabytes) of data created in a single year. Arguably the most concerning facet of this is that research shows at least 68% of this data is never used once it has been created, and the CO² emissions created by powering the technology to store this data is greater than that of the entire airline industry.

The cloud is now seen as indispensable to many enterprises, so much so that IDC has reported that spending on compute and storage cloud infrastructure rose by 6.6% during the last quarter of 2021. However, data centers are coming under increased scrutiny with estimates showing that they are currently consuming upwards of 2% of the world’s energy, and with predictions showing that number could rise to 8% by 2030, the question is how can we build a greener, and more sustainable cloud environment for the future?

Education is key

Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to a problem this big, but there are simple steps we can be taking now to minimize its impact. One of these is storing stuff we don’t need or won’t use on a regular basis on the cloud.

Our own research found that 87% of employees say that storing data in the cloud is easier than other storage methods. The tech industry has been papering over the cracks with this for years. But now there are bigger storage drives and other more efficient technology are available, companies must start putting value on data. There is also an education angle that must be addressed – storing data on the cloud is convenient however many employees (and organizations) are unaware of their cloud infrastructure’s environmental impact and if we are to look to a greener future, this must be addressed.

Data centers are huge consumers of energy. With energy prices in the UK and Europe rising steeply, bills are set to increase, so much so that for the data center in a mid-sized company in the UK, costs could increase by up to £1 million over the next five years. Furthermore, recent predictions from Greenpeace have found that a fifth (20%) of the world’s total electricity will be consumed by the tech sector by 2025 with an increase of 7% down to the expansion of cloud computing. Therefore, it’s not an understatement to say that building a greener cloud environment will also create a greener planet. By monitoring their data center carbon emissions and using renewable energy 24/7, just as Google intends to by 2030, organizations can drastically minimize energy usage.

Minimizing digital waste

Energy use and consumption is just one part of the picture. Hyperscalers also play a key role in providing a sustainable environment for organizations to consume cloud resources. However, customers are responsible for how efficiently they are used. This efficiency can be quickly diminished if digital waste is not reduced. For example, every email that’s sent creates around 0.5g of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Add some attachments, and that number can go up to 10–20g CO2e. It’s the same for any social media activity and any interaction people may have on their device of choice. If we all become slightly more aware in how we consume resources from cloud providers, we can limit the amount emissions produced by data centers. The cloud can be the problem but also the panacea.

As we explored earlier, by storing data they don’t use, not only are businesses ultimately producing more carbon than they need to, but they’re also paying for services they don’t need to. Therefore, building a greener cloud environment and minimizing digital waste is beneficial to an organization’s wallet. Digital waste arising from the cloud can be minimized through technologies such as artificial intelligence and data analytics that provide insights around how data is being used.

Businesses should also look to invest in newer technology. It seems obvious to say but older technology is less efficient so buying behaviors should change. Not only is it more cost effective but these benefits could directly, positively impact users and therefore your business

Cloud optimization tools can also help companies optimize cloud data storage, therefore minimizing digital waste. These can assess and predict resource requirements, so infrastructure is utilized in the most efficient way. The key is that we are intelligent with data and implementing cloud technologies that are both green and provide value for money.

Looking to the future

There’s often no need to lease storage space and store data if that space is only required due to inefficient data management and waste. Some organizations need to stick to defined data management policies, but can the same be said for retention policies? In the future, organizations can create and define policies for data retention to ensure waste is minimized, as part of an ongoing process to ensure their cloud environment is as green as possible.

With cloud adoption continuing to rise, we must continue to investigate sustainability across the board. The cloud should be viewed as an extension of a commitment to this. The tools that exist today make it possible for a greener cloud environment, using optimization tools and analytics.

Businesses must consider the green credentials of their cloud providers and on premises infrastructure, their use of energy and level of data wastage in order to build the greenest cloud infrastructure possible. The power of technology shouldn’t be forgotten when it comes to building a greener
cloud environment.

Matt Watts

Chief Technology Evangelist at NetApp UK&I, a leading Cloud-led, data management company

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