Cut Carbon: It’s Time for Green Cloud Operations

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Companies are increasingly aware of their impact on the environment and are striving to be more sustainable. However, many do not recognize the extent of their IT cloud usage and its associated carbon footprint. While organizations have traditionally focused on measuring Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions from activities such as the production of goods or electricity consumption, according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the majority of total corporate emissions can come from Scope 3 sources, which cover the entire value chain. Therefore, it is critical that companies consider the end-to-end carbon emissions of their IT infrastructure.

To gain an accurate understanding of the carbon impact of their cloud operations, companies need to understand not only what they have in their environments, but also how those systems are used by tracking workload utilization. This can then be translated into measures of electricity consumption and subsequently the actual carbon emissions produced.

Keep in mind that the composition of power is different in different geographies and can fluctuate with variables such as weather and time of day, as well as the economics of power generation. When using external tools, it is important to review your methodologies for calculating carbon emissions and ensure they are comprehensive and align with internationally recognized standards such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol or ISO 14064.

IT professionals have many levers to pull when looking to implement more carbon-conscious cloud deployments. Some considerations are:

Determining the types of hardware used

Deploy your services on state-of-the-art hardware. In recent decades, the efficiency of semiconductors has doubled on average every two years, in accordance with Moore’s Law. When choosing a SKU to run your cloud applications on, choose the latest generation possible. Since older generations use older processors, they work much harder to produce the same output, and that extra work consumes more electricity. Also, stay informed about the newest SKUs, which are typically released on an ongoing basis by major cloud providers. And because of the improved efficiency of newer hardware, newer SKUs often cost the same and sometimes less than their older counterparts.

Reduce waste in resource provisioning

It’s important to avoid falling into the common “set it and forget it” trap, as industry surveys often show companies complaining about their wasted cloud spending. Keep track of your cloud environment using monitoring tools to quickly identify and address over-provisioning. Not only will this help you get the most out of your cloud budget, but running an efficient cloud environment with as few cloud resources as possible reduces the power consumption of your applications.

Decide when and where applications run

One of the most important ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your cloud environment is to focus on using the cleanest energy possible. The data centers you choose to operate in and how you run your workloads in them matter. Certain data centers run on cleaner power most of the time, with little reliance on fossil fuels.

Additionally, the carbon intensity of the energy that powers a data center often fluctuates depending on a variety of factors. When demand on the power grid is high, fossil fuels often make up the difference, making the power produced at those times dirtier. Weather is also a factor, with grids connected to wind farms or solar panels oscillating regularly depending on the availability of renewable energy sources. So by running your flex-time applications at different times or running them in different regions, you can further reduce the carbon footprint of your cloud environment.

Execution of efficient processes and code

Determine the frequency of running processes required to meet business needs (eg, the frequency of data ingestion from your data warehouse or batch transaction processes), as well as your carbon goals. Improvements in code efficiency can also have a real impact on an application’s carbon footprint. Each conditional boils down to a “switch” that is checked and set on a transistor in a semiconductor, so the fewer conditionals your code needs to execute, the less power a processor needs.

ESG: a day-to-day practice

As companies look to strengthen their ESG (environmental, social, and governance) efforts, they must consider the full scope of their IT infrastructure. They should look for ways to reduce and optimize their IT cloud carbon footprint, not just at the time of implementation or at one point in time, but on a regular and ongoing basis.

Kelly Fleming is the CIO and co-founder of the Cirrus Nexus cloud management platform.

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