Know your environmental impact – how green is your cloud?

environmental impact cloud
Image by darrenmbaker | Bigstockphoto

Understanding the environmental impact of your cloud is a critical milestone for leaders who are adapting sustainable technologies to reduce energy consumption. This is an essential component of driving both economic resilience and addressing urgent climate challenges.

Conversations with industry pundits quickly coalesce around ‘greening through cloud’. A regional study estimates that cloud infrastructure is five times more efficient than APAC on-premises data centres, such that moving IT workloads to the cloud would immediately reduce energy use and associated carbon emissions by 78% across APAC.

Back in 2020, in an interview – Why 2020 is a ‘pivot year’ in Asia for cloud technologies – we noted the rapid rise of cloud adoption in the region, ramped up by the pandemic era.

Srini Koushik

In my interview with Srini Koushik, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Rackspace Technology, he said the company has placed environmental, social, and governance (ESG) at the heart of its cultural DNA.

“I see sustainable IT as something that should be embraced by businesses. Our Earth is experiencing what the United Nations calls the “triple planetary crisis” of climate change, pollution, and loss of biodiversity. I strongly believe that modern enterprises must do their part by making sustainability a top business priority because their success is tightly intertwined with the planet’s health and society.”

He showed a graphic to answer the question of what sustainable IT is.

environmental impact of cloud

Achieving Net Zero

Cloud computing is an accelerant for Singapore’s journey to sustainability and net zero, Srini said.

Speaking on a business leader’s role, he added: “This is achieved by using shared resources that are optimised for efficiency and designed to minimise energy usage. This could help Singapore move closer to its national climate target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Rackspace’s example shows up the benefits of the cloud, he continued.

“Rackspace Technology has a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory for all operations worldwide since 2008. After our IPO in 2020, we have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.”

“As part of reducing energy consumption, we continue to invest in smart building automation systems. By individually managing light, heat, and cooling based on operational demand, we can reduce energy consumption significantly,” he said.

“We also look at equipment refresh cycles and how to shorten them. For example, by returning office equipment to the supply chain where it gets recycled for parts, less energy is consumed in the life cycles of both the original item and the parts it was recycled into.”

He detailed how Rackspace Technology worked on sourcing power from Clean Energy sources in the region for two data centre locations in Singapore. “We are also starting to capture the data that is required to modify how we select our suppliers so that we can effectively monitor and optimise GHG protocol Scope 3 emissions over the next 18 months.”

Addressing the waste

However, the cloud also produces lots of unwanted digital waste. Here are some common examples of waste noted in various studies:

“As with everything in life, the massive computing power of the cloud can have negative effects when not utilised properly. In the context of making IT green, we are talking about how the cloud can produce a lot of unwanted digital waste. Examples include the energy consumption and cooling costs for idle servers and network equipment, as well as the creation of unnecessary backups of data,” said Srini.

“Other organisations can also avoid digital waste from the cloud by adopting serverless and other cloud-native technologies first, instead of running an entire software stack from common off-the-shelf solutions which create a need for servers that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Slashing carbon footprints

Of course, businesses’ adoption of cloud sustainability needs to reduce their carbon footprints, Srini continued.

“[Rackspace Technology’ is not just holding itself accountable for sustainability. We are also encouraging both our suppliers and partners to adopt ESG practices as it plays a critical role in making supply chains more sustainable and efficient. In the case of smaller suppliers, we ask them for details on their sustainability efforts and use that information in making decisions regarding future transactions.”

“We also have partners who are more advanced in terms of ESG, and we replicate their best practices so we can continue to improve. At the end of the day, sustainability is a journey, not a destination. We can never say we have reached the end of the road because there is always something we can do to make IT and our overall operations greener.”

The rise of cloud in Malaysia

Interestingly, the rise of cloud has continued in the post-pandemic era. In the article – Why ASEAN leaders are doubling down on cloud basics in 2023 – we talked with industry voices such as Asia House, whose director of research and advisory said: “Our outlook indicates that Asia’s growth prospects continue to hinge on an acceleration in digital transformation, greater regional coordination, and striking the right balance in broader monetary policy across the region.”

A cloud-powered 4IR era is also a priority in Malaysia, with Telekom Malaysia’s (TM’s) appointment by the government as the only local Cloud Service Provider (CSP) within the MyDIGITAL initiative to support Government agencies’ digital transformation journey.

Shazurawati Abd Karim
Shazurawati Abd Karim

TM’s enterprise and government sector arm TM One’s executive Vice President, Shazurawati Abd Karim, told us at the time: “One defining moment is when we enhanced the capabilities of α Edge (Cloud Alpha) with AI – thus becoming an Intelligent Industry Cloud Platform, with full-stack hyperscaler capabilities hosted at TM One’s Tier-III Data Centre in Malaysia. This is Malaysia’s only hyperscaler cloud with end-to-end services, which meet local, residency and sovereignty data requirements as well as AI capabilities that comply with the highest industry standards.”

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, Rackspace’s Srini noted: “The broader view of sustainability is not just about the environment. It is also about economic sustainability while doing it in an equitable way that benefits everyone.”

“In the context of sustainable IT, this means going beyond reducing carbon footprint to opening up more opportunities for technology professionals, encouraging inclusivity, enabling a wider talent pool, and reducing business costs.”

Complex cloud architectures can be exclusionary for entry-level professionals looking to build their careers in this field,” he said. “By restricting economic opportunities to only the most experienced individuals, the talent shortage in the industry is exacerbated, and the economic gap is widened as the top echelon of technology talent continues to make disproportionately higher wages.”

Srini concludes: “Simpler cloud architectures that use serverless technologies and event-driven architectures are more than adequate to deliver desired business outcomes while at the same time promoting economic sustainability and equitability.”

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