In the simplest terms, cloud computing is the delivery of different services through remote servers hosted on the internet for storing and managing data. As a platform, cloud provides tools and applications like data storage, servers, databases, networking, and software. Most businesses use multiple clouds to deliver services including public clouds like AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google, while others offer proprietary applications from the cloud like SAP and Salesfo
Businesses are increasingly viewing the cloud as a way to help them meet their sustainability targets. Other companies believe cloud computing can reduce carbon emissions, use resources more efficiently, and lessen a company’s environmental footprint.
How sustainable is cloud computing?
Cloud is the cleaner option for storing data compared to other options as it addresses energy efficiency and resource efficiency through leveraging server virtualization to minimize a physical server footprint, thus consuming less electricity. However, cloud isn’t completely a zero-emissions solution and organizations must still find opportunities to offset carbon emissions it generates.
In a study published in January 2022, MIT anthropologist Steven Gonzalez Monserrate describes the phenomenon of a “thermal runaway event.” The study describes a thermal runaway event as “a cascading failure of cooling systems that interrupts the functioning of the servers that process, store, and facilitate everything online.” A thermal runaway event results in molecular frictions that the digital industry describes as “unruly heat.” Making sure this phenomenon doesn’t occur is critical for cloud providers to maintain energy efficiency.
As heat is a waste product of computation, it must be continually abated to allow the system to continue functioning 24 hours a day, every day. To combat this, data centers rely on air conditioning to fend off the thermodynamic threat.
“In North America, most data centers draw power from ‘dirty’ electricity grids, especially in Virginia’s ‘data center alley,’ the site of 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic in 2019,” the case study says. “To cool itself the cloud burns carbon.”
There are other issues that can arise when shifting to a cloud environment, that eventually lead to difficulty in properly reporting carbon emissions. Chris Noble, co-founder and CEO of Cirrus Nexus, a company that helps organizations monitor and optimize their cloud spend suggests that businesses relying on cloud may have “. . .less control and insight into the environmental costs of cloud.” While cloud provides flexibility and scalability, he cautions you may “. . .lose insight into just how much energy is being used to power your cloud workloads.”
The greener side of cloud
Despite the cooling and energy consumption challenges when it comes to the cloud, it is increasingly being used as a tool by organizations to meet sustainability objectives and reduce their carbon footprint. The cloud remains the best option for maintaining energy efficiency when storing data.
The improvements to energy efficiency are proving that cloud data centers are more sustainable than on-premise data centers because local servers use more energy and have higher maintenance costs. For example, a study from Microsoft and engineering firm WSP USA revealed that cloud computing delivers 93 percent energy efficiency and 98 percent lower carbon emission compared to on-premise data centers. The study notes that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) says that data centers consume about 1.8 percent of the overall energy consumption in the US each year, but that cloud computing “reduces these figures significantly.” These savings were due to four key factors:
A study from 451 research on Amazon Web Services infrastructure also shows cloud reducing carbon emissions through more efficient servers and higher server utilization, more efficient data center facilities, and reduced electricity consumption and renewable energy usage.
Xin Li, Avneet Singh, Greg Thompson, and Joseph Beer in a recent post about Amazon’s AWS cloud efficiency explained: “By using the full gamut of AWS services and best-practice cloud technologies, we can efficiently serve the needs of operation/maintenance supervisors, data engineers, and data scientists and provide near-real-time situational awareness of renewable energy generation assets.”
Will spending on cloud computing slow down?
In 2022, recovering from the pandemic and compensating for the still largely remote workforce, companies in the US increased spending on cloud. The increased reliance on digital technology to transform organizations in healthcare, retail, financial services, and manufacturing continues to drive spending on cloud. Investor’s Business Daily estimates the numbers to decrease to normal levels by the summer of 2023, a modest decline. Technology firms spent aggressively over the past couple years due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a lot of business to be conducted online. Morgan Stanley analyst Erik Woodring says that hyperscalers of cloud me be entering a “digestion period” after three years of accelerated cloud growth.
HCL Technologies and CloudSMART
HCL Technologies shares our clients a passion for sustainable computing. CloudSMART is HCL Technology’s solution for continuous modernization of cloud. Our consultants work with clients to transform their concerns about energy consumption into an opportunity for sustainability. We focus on what is already changing and enable clients to shift into hyper speed to achieve sustainable computing. CloudSMART uses a consulting led and industry informed approach to enable our clients to build on core competencies and strategic assets to do more, faster.
Siki Giunta, EVP & Head of HCL Technology’s CloudSMART Offerings and Industry Cloud Consulting explains: “Our clients are innovating faster, creating a richer customer experience, gaining fresh insights from data and generating new revenue streams – all because of cloud. We take a holistic approach to working with cloud providers like Microsoft, IBM, Amazon AWS and Google. We believe these companies are pursuing environmental sustainability for cloud computing.”
- IT operational efficiency – commercial cloud services can operate with greater efficiency than smaller, on-prem deployments due to large-scale dynamic provisioning and multitenancy;
- IT equipment efficiency – Microsoft tailors large-scale hardware to find efficient ways to power specific service needs;
- Data center infrastructure efficiency – advanced technologies help reduce electricity requirements for lighting, cooling, and power conditioning of these cloud data centers; and
- Renewable electricity – consolidated electricity demand creates potential for large-scale purchases of green power that would otherwise not be viable.