In-depth

What is green cloud?

Tech firms can do their bit to support our march to a zero carbon lifestyle by cleaning up their cloud

The world’s fossil fuel stocks are depleting, and the cost of using them is rising. Meanwhile countries and corporations alike are making commitments to achieve zero carbon status, and individuals are increasingly aware of – and seeking to reduce – their personal environmental footprint. One way tech firms can do their bit to help the steady march to zero carbon is to use what’s known as green cloud. 

The complexities of green cloud

As the name would suggest, green cloud is about being low-carbon, but there are a lot of components in the mix beyond just the power that is used to keep facilities like data centres going. It’s also about how the infrastructure used in cloud facilities is produced and sourced. Some building materials are produced in more environmentally damaging ways, while others are more environmentally damaging to maintain and dispose of at a later date – the whole lifecycle matters. The same lifecycle issues exist for the technology components used to provide cloud services.

Even when we look at energy usage the picture is complex. Renewables are key as an energy source, but they are not the only factor; how energy is distributed around a data centre and energy efficiency are also important considerations.

All of this means that understanding how green a green cloud provider is can be complex. Subhankar Pal, assistant vice president of technology and innovation at Capgemini company Altran, tells IT Pro: “Firms can discover their green-ness by establishing a way to evaluate green KPIs during tests and in production. Green KPIs will be derived from metrics like energy efficiency, cooling efficiency, computing infrastructure performance, thermal and air management metrics.”

Prioritising sustainability matters

Consumers are increasingly adopting sustainability models in their everyday life, and are often prepared to pay more for items that meet environmental credentials. The principles that lead people to look for green energy providers, reduced and recyclable packing in purchased goods, and ethically sourced clothing are the same principles that drive them away from companies that lack green credentials. Firms that add green cloud into their mix stand to gain in reputation, regardless of whether their clients are consumers or other businesses.

As Emma Roscow, Intelligent cloud infrastructure lead for Accenture UKI explains: “Business strategy is increasingly focused on sustainability, with many companies making commitments to reduce their carbon footprint. In fact, 99% of CEOs from large companies now agree that sustainability issues are important to the future success of their businesses.” 

It’s not just about good PR, though – the real environmental gains matter too. Roscow adds: “Accenture recently found that public cloud migrations could reduce global carbon emissions by 59 million tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road.” 

Lead the way and keep a clear head

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Given the depletion of fossil fuels and push towards renewables, the move to green cloud is ultimately inevitable. For Pal, the time is right to make the move. “The reason to do this now is because some firms are already experiencing higher cost pressures, and they could be more cost implications in the long run. There could be stricter government regulations, penalties, and higher operational costs for managing non-green data centres,” he says.

But the move should be made with a clear head. Nick Mcquire, vice president, enterprise research at CCS Insight tells IT Pro: “We are seeing the cloud providers posturing over ‘my cloud is cleaner than your cloud’ as they commit on the one hand, to massive infrastructure build-outs to sustain demand and differentiate their platforms, and the ability for this infrastructure to be friendly on the planet on the other.” He advises, “customers should push their cloud providers hard on providing energy data around where they place their cloud workloads and for innovation in areas that can cut their energy emissions.”

Roscow highlights some additional factors to be taken into account including, within any firm, “the current hardware’s lifecycle, approach to application development, their sustainable business models and processes, and how they use the cloud to create circular operations”.

There is no easy, off the shelf, method of deciding when and how to make the move to green cloud. Each firm will need to do its own research on both cloud services and its wider use of IT – and that research might be much more in-depth than you think. Roscow puts this plainly – if surprisingly – when she reveals that “Accenture Labs’ research found that even the choice of coding language can impact energy consumption by as much as fifty times, depending on the programming technique”. 

Despite these twists and turns, there is no doubt the move to green cloud is coming for tech firms as for all others. Making the move sooner rather than later might be better financially and reputationally – as well as for the planet.

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