Cloud Computing: A Step Towards Net-Zero

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Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, increased wildfires, heat waves – these are some of the climate nightmares that the World is experiencing. In this data-driven economy, companies are powered by data and data is the foundation of decision making.

While data undoubtedly brings convenience to our lives, the associated amount of carbon footprints produced are destroying our planet. Let us take AI as an example, where AI works by combining large sets of data to extract insights and patterns. Did you know that up to 78,000 pounds of carbons can be generated just by building and training an AI language system? This is twice as much as the average American exhales over their lifetime! Be it on an individual or organizational level, many have embarked on their green journey. “Net-zero by 2030” and “Net-zero by 2050” are not uncommon headlines as many organizations set the ambition to achieve zero carbon emissions in the coming years.

Cloud computing has always been a hot topic. Being able to run businesses without the need to invest in physical hardware, the ability to market products faster with cloud deployment and the convenience of accessing cloud services anytime and anywhere with just an internet connection are some of the cloud benefits that many are aware of. However, cloud computing can also help companies reduce their carbon footprints and perhaps, achieve a step closer to net-zero. According to IDC, cloud computing could eliminate more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon emission from 2021 to 2024. This is equivalent to the total emission of 218 million cars over an entire year!

The pay-as-you-go pricing model in cloud allows companies to only utilize what they need based on their operational demands. Users are provided with the flexibility to switch resources on/off when needed. While many see it as an ability to save costs, this pricing model saves a significant amount of energy through resource optimization and not running underutilized or as idle servers. In addition, cloud providers operate using virtualization design, which means multiple operating system copies can run simultaneously on a single server. This allows fewer servers to be powered, hence less energy consumed. Furthermore, some cloud providers have embarked on their green cloud journey to ensure their data centres are carbon-free. For instance, Google has reached carbon-neutral in 2007 and aims to run all its data centres on carbon-free energy by 2030. Amazon is committed to powering its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and is on the path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, and Microsoft has set the goal to be carbon negative by 2030 and remove their historical carbon emissions by 2025. Companies can leverage on cloud provider’s net-zero carbon IT services and data centres operations to reduce their carbon emissions.

With the cloud, not only do companies benefit from reduced operational expenses, but it also allows them to work towards sustainability. However, this is not a one size fits all solution. Simply migrating or starting businesses using the cloud does not imply that a company is closer to net-zero. There are other factors to consider too.

Firstly, cloud optimization. The reduced operating cost that one enjoys in the cloud usually comes from the direct reduction in server usage, hence, lower associated carbon emission. While cloud provides the flexibility to add on more servers when required, companies must ensure that proper cloud architecture design and planning are in place to optimize resources, where servers are added only when required. Poor cloud architecture can risk companies having expensive cloud consumption and inefficient cloud usage. Companies must be committed to reviewing and optimizing their cloud architecture as they scale and expand their operations.

Another factor is the selection of cloud providers. Depending on the green commitments of different cloud providers, the governance and investment approach towards sustainability varies. Companies must thus consider the sustainability commitment of various cloud providers before starting or migrating their businesses to the cloud. It is highly advisable to choose one that has the ambition to achieve carbon-neutral or carbon-negative and that best aligns with their sustainability goals.

The impending climate crisis is not a new topic. Organizations have a big part to play in reducing carbon emissions. Adopting cloud computing and ensuring corporate sustainability will not be an easy task. However, with careful implementations and analysis, green cloud computing is something companies can consider in their sustainability movement to achieve lower carbon emissions in this digitalized world, and subsequently, towards net-zero carbon emissions.

References:

  • Menzel, G. (2020, October 13). Training AIs doesn’t have to hurt (the planet). Retrieved from AI: https://www.capgemini.com/2020/10/training-ais-doesnt-have-to-hurt-the-planet/
  • Needham, Mass. (2021, March 8). Cloud Computing Could Eliminate a Billion Metric Tons of CO2 Emission Over the Next Four Years, and Possibly More, According to a New IDC Forecast. Retrieved from IDC Media Center: https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS47513321
  • Flood, T. (2021, April 30). Cloud Sustainability: The Case for Carbon Accounting in IT. Retrieved from Sustainable Operations: https://www.capgemini.com/no-no/2021/04/cloud-sustainability-the-case-for-carbon-accounting-in-it/
  • (2021). Cloud sustainability. Retrieved from Sustainability: https://cloud.google.com/sustainability
  • (2021). Amazon Sustainability. Retrieved from Environment: https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/
  • Microsoft. (2020, January 16). Microsoft will be carbon negative by 2030. Retrieved from Blog: https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2020/01/16/microsoft-will-be-carbon-negative-by-2030/

Author

Hai Qi Loon

Digital Services, Capgemini Singapore, Senior Analyst
“There is no excuse for not trying”

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