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Sustainability: Let us paint our cloud green

Sustainability: Let us paint our cloud green
October 25, 2021

There are two popular trends in today’s IT world. Firstly, modernization initiatives are seeing enterprises across industry verticals evolve from the phase of moving to the cloud (Migrate/Hybridize) to realizing the true benefits of the cloud solutions by modernizing the infrastructure to serve the next wave of innovative tech. Secondly, the footprint of on-premises lift-and-shift needs cost optimization to realize TCO benefits in the cloud.

Discussions around the cloud are more about when than why. Organizations are continuously looking to migrate data and workloads to the cloud to reduce infrastructure footprint on-premises and prepare for exponential growth in data generation. The ongoing pandemic has also led to accelerated adoption of the cloud. A high volume of data is being created by digital activities such as data streaming, file sharing, IoT connectivity, and social networking. However, the resultant carbon footprint and financial implications are posing sustainability challenges. For instance, the current energy consumption by the cloud service providers is around 3,000 terawatt hours and that number is expected to reach 8,000 terawatt hours by 2030.

This presents an important question to all of us: what roles must cloud professionals play in reducing the carbon footprint. As cloud architects, we have always focused on the technical value proposition, cloud economics, and financial governance, but it is important to shift our focus to making cloud initiatives greener, more sustainable, and reducing carbon footprints. We must change our perspectives to look beyond cost-saving and focus more on using the cloud as an accelerator for sustainability. Adoption of public cloud is surely the first step towards sustainability. According to a recent study, MS Azure DCs are 93% more energy-efficient and have 98% lower carbon emissions.

So, what are the alternative ways of reducing carbon footprints? Here are some key considerations:

The cradle-to-cradle approach: In contrast to the linear cradle-to-grave approach, we should adopt a more circular cradle-to-cradle approach. For that, the IT infrastructure product lifecycle needs to be changed. Post resource acquisition and consumption, IT assets should be intelligently recycled and reused in the next generation of products, creating a closed loop. Certainly, there would be a significant social, economic, and environmental impact if we incentivize a circular economy in the IT ecosystem.

Application architecture: The application architecture plays an important role in the resources it consumes. Any scale-out architecture would consume lesser resources when the load is less and gradually spin up more resources as the load increases. The way the application code passes instructions to the CPU also impacts the energy consumption of the processor.

Capacity planning: Capacity planning is a perpetual activity. In today’s agile scenario, where businesses aim to reduce time to market, the capacity changes within hours instead of weeks. There must be no silos between IT and the business. Improved capacity planning helps in the efficient acquisition of resources, reduces over-allocating of infrastructure (dynamic provisioning) and subsequently helps in increasing the green quotient of the cloud service providers.

Waste heat utilization: Due to the high volume of data that needs processing, the cloud service providers are massive heat generators. Multicore processors are further increasing the cooling requirements. As a result, the heat transfer and cooling mechanism play a very important role in ensuring the environmental sustainability of datacenters. New cooling technologies, such as the vapor absorption-based cooling system, can improve the PUE values. The DC location also dictates where this heat can be used to provide community heating in low-temperature areas.

Renewable energy resources: Energy is one of the most significant factors impacting the green quotient of the cloud datacenters. To address this, cloud service providers today are taking several approaches to adopt a sustainable business environment. Some are using roof space to harvest solar energy. Some are leveraging third-party energy providers and making long-term investments in them to set up renewable power plants and, in turn, get long-term price protection. It is important to obtain Guarantees of Origin (GO) certificates to get incentives from the governments to reduce carbon credit.

The HCL perspective

HCL already offers application modernization, cloud consulting, cloud migration services to customers globally. The HCL Cloud Smart team works with customers to help them build a more sustainable platform for their digital innovations. Our cloud solutions also enable them to focus on their core business needs and not on secondary aspects of DC facilities, electricity, etc.

Several of HCL’s cloud service partners have also been actively pursuing environmental sustainability goals. Google became the first company of its size to run completely on renewable energy in 2017. MS Azure has already committed to going carbon negative and consume electricity only from renewable energy sources by 2030. Amazon Web Services have also set a similar sustainability target for themselves.

Along with our customers and partners, we are resolute about creating a sustainable planet and business paradigm. We hope to proudly say, “We have successfully painted our cloud green.”