Lowering Your Data Carbon Footprint

By Nigel Tozer

Those of you who read my blogs regularly will know I’m from the United Kingdom (UK), where we have a somewhat split personality when it comes to climate change (and other things, apparently).

For example, we have a really successful wind turbine industry, both in manufacturing and for generation, and nearly 30 percent of our electricity is now renewable. Along with much of northern Europe, school children have gone on strike; climate activists have taken direct action in cities; and our parliament even recently declared a “Climate Emergency.” Ironically, at pretty much the same time, we kept the sales tax on fossil fuels at 5 percent but raised it to 20 percent on solar panels.

Go figure. And while 30 percent renewable electricity isn’t bad, it needs to go up, and quickly.

A recent government report1 also pointed to the UK’s air travel industry having its growth curtailed because of the carbon output contribution. No mention of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), though, which, as I pointed out before my sustainability trip to Iceland, emits more CO2 than the aviation business globally. And has done since 2013.

I guess the point here is that wherever you live, you just can’t leave it up to your government to take the lead – we have to take responsibility in our personal lives and in our places of work. In both cases, that certainly involves our use of data and its environmental impact.

The devil’s in the data

We all contribute to worldwide data growth. ICT includes networking and the devices we all use daily, with moving data around the world just as carbon-heavy as data centers that store it. What can we do about it then? Here are several ways you can personally cut down on your own data and networking carbon footprint:

  • Download your favourite songs instead of always streaming them; the same applies to movies if your provider/system lets you (think about your kids viewing habits here as a start!).
  • Where you can, use your phone or tablet’s browser instead of an app. Apps often “chatter” with their makers, which drains your battery faster and also collects/sends more data about you; this invariably ends up in a data center somewhere.
  • Turn notifications off for non-essential apps. Social media and other notifications drain your battery and cause more network traffic (and you might even talk to your partner/family more, too!).
  • Look for some Android and iOS battery saving tips; these tips suggest you charge your device less often, and almost always lead to a cut in network traffic, too. Turning off “background app refresh” by app or entirely is a great example; it also has privacy benefits, too.
  • Consider getting a reputable solar charger for your phone.

All pretty minor changes, eh? If we all did this, it would make a significant reduction in the carbon footprint of our personal data usage. Think about this: if high-resolution cameras were banned on smartphones, according to one report it would cut European network traffic by a staggering 40 percent2.

Now over to work. What can you do in your own data center? As I’ve said before, moving to a hyperscale cloud provider will (in many cases) be greener than running your own, but that’s not all you can do. What I learned in Iceland is that renewables really work and that smart building design can also have a huge impact. This got me thinking about my own company’s products and services; these can have a really positive impact, too, as they can significantly help you reduce the amount of data that you manage.

As well as offering our backup services (BaaS) run in sustainable-powered data centers, using Commvault’s products in your own data center or in the cloud can help to reduce the total amount of data you store and move around, improving your carbon footprint along the way.

Here are several ways Commvault can help:

  • Simplifying the migration of suitable workloads to the cloud (if moved to a sustainable cloud provider, of course)
  • End-to-end dedupe of data management operations – less data stored and less traffic – in-between your own data centers and the cloud
  • Tracking and spinning down idle VMs/workloads (on-premises or in the cloud)
  • Putting backup and archive into a single, virtual store with global dedupe, which can also be used for big data or analytics (rather than building a separate system for big data)
  • Providing copy data management tools to significantly reduce your overall data footprint
  • Allowing organisations to find redundant data for deletion or archive
  • Simple use and tape-and-tape management in the cloud, such as AWS Glacier and Microsoft’s equivalent (tape has a much lower carbon footprint than disk and even SSD)

The great news is that all of this has tangible business benefits, too. Analyst firm IDC produced a report that confirms the financial savings that Commvault customers can make. In addition to these savings, and a reduction of loss due to downtime, Commvault customers also fare better from a compliance perspective. And remember, each 250TB3 array you don’t buy saves around 7.4 metrics tons of carbon in running/cooling it per year – the same as charging nearly 1 million smartphones – plus more than that to make the array in the first place.

That would take a lot of fiddling with iPhone/Android handset’s power settings and apps to replicate – so think “sustainable” about your work, too. We’ve only got one Earth.

Find out more about our Backup as a Service offering, or watch a video and download the full IDC customer survey findings.

Climate change ‘may curb growth in UK flying,’ report by Roger Harrabin, BBC News, May 2019

2 How to stop data centers from gobbling up the world’s electricity, Nature.com, Sept. 2018 (I’m not suggesting hi-res cameras actually be banned by the way, it’s just an example)

3 Based on 250TB HDD array consuming 10,400Mwh annually of direct drawn power plus cooling – array power consumption varies, flash arrays can be considerably lower. The actual smartphone charging number is 937k, as per the U.S. EPA carbon calculator website.