Why You Should Consider Sustainability When You’re Looking To ‘Cloud Responsibly’

By Nigel Tozer

In a recent blog I had a little fun with the “Game of Thrones,” and positioned the ever-looming winter in the show as a metaphor for change. “Change” in that blog was about disruptive shifts in technology and their social impact, but one significant change was overlooked – that of climate.

Whether you believe in anthropomorphic climate change or not (I do, for the record), one thing it’s impossible to dispute is the fact we only have one planet. Earth is it, folks. Forget the science fiction, we’re stuck here for the foreseeable future, so we need to look after this place. It’s for this reason that companies everywhere are looking to operate in a sustainable way, and questions about sustainability can now be found in all kinds of due-diligence business documents. We see them all the time, and for good reason.

Data has really taken off

Data centers and the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) industry have now become a huge consumer of global resources. Just think of all of the connected devices around you, and then consider their usefulness when you have no connection to a data center – their value drops dramatically. Why not ask your voice assistant how many computers are needed to make it work, or about its carbon footprint? Whatever the answer, it’s just a minuscule piece of the wider picture.

Businesses everywhere are now driven by big data, IoT, machine learning and AI, virtual reality, streaming, data collected from your mobile phone – the list goes on. More data is now created by machines than us, yet our lives are at least in part lived on silicon and fibre, in a noisy and cold town-sized computer room somewhere, many miles away.

What is the actual impact of all of this? A quick search around the Internet (which consumed about 10g of CO2, which is a little more of a half a cup of boiling water1) paints a stark picture of just how big a problem it is:

  • Global Internet traffic was 100GB a day in 1997, and is predicted to reach 150,700GB per second by 20222
  • Hard drive shipments are set to grow from 869 exabytes in 2018 to 2.6 zettabytes by 20233
  • ICT globally now outputs more carbon that the aviation industry – first reported in 2013, and has continued to do so since4

What’s interesting about ICT overtaking aviation for carbon output is that CO2 emissions have not significantly risen past the 2 percent mark, despite the huge growth in ICT. The reason for this is there have been a lot of efficiency gains that have soaked up the increases, with one big factor that might surprise you. You know those town-sized data centers that the hyperscale cloud providers are building? It turns out that they aren’t as bad for the planet as you think.

The generation game

One of the reasons they are not as bad as you think is down to economy of scale. Each of “The Big Three” hyperscale cloud vendors makes a different claim, but you’re looking in the region of 3.75:1 up to 6:1 efficiency over a typical on-premises DC. That saves a lot of power.

Then there’s renewables. At least two of the big three run “power utility” sized generation activities in solar and wind. Two of them claim their cloud operations are 100 percent carbon neutral; one is the world’s largest consumer of sustainable power; and another is at 50 percent renewable with the aim of reaching 100 percent5.  This drive to sustainability by the hyperscale cloud players and the vast take up of their services that is, in part, what’s helping to keep ICT CO2 emissions flat.

How to cloud responsibly – and sustainably

If you’ve looked around Commvault’s website, you’ll probably have noticed the cloud responsibly messages. These focus on our ability to efficiently move, manage and use data across a hybrid IT environment. A big proportion of this covers topics, such as cloud data migration, and use cases – such as cloud dev/test and cloud disaster recovery – which as you can see from the aforementioned numbers, could play a significant part in helping your IT operations become more sustainable than doing it all on-premises.

In my next blog, which I’ll be writing after visiting a cutting-edge sustainable data centre in Iceland, I’ll look at some ideas you can use in your own IT operations. In the meantime, why not take a look at how Commvault can play a part in helping you make the shift to public cloud to boost your own sustainability.

1 How viral cat videos are warming the planet, The Guardian, 2015

2 Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Trends 2017-2022, Cisco Feb 2019

3 ICT Sector Accounts for 2 Percent of Global Carbon Emissions: Study, Nature World News, 2013

4 Digital Storage Projections for 2019 – Part 1, Forbes, Dec 2018

5 For reference, the sustainability pages for AWSGoogle and Microsoft