Reduce CO2 emissions: it’s time for environmentally conscious cloud operations

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Companies are increasingly aware of their impact on the environment and are striving for sustainability. However, many fail to recognize the magnitude of their IT cloud usage and associated environmental footprint. While organizations have traditionally focused on measuring Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions from activities such as producing goods or consuming electricity, according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the majority of total corporate emissions may come from Scope 3 sources, spanning the entire value chain. So it is critical for companies to 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 being used by tracking workload usage. This can then be translated into measurements of electricity consumption and then into the actual CO2 emissions produced.

Keep in mind that power composition differs in different regions 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 their methodologies for calculating carbon emissions and ensure that they are comprehensive and in line with internationally recognized standards, such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol or ISO 14064.

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

Determining what types of hardware are used

Deploy your services on next-generation hardware. In recent decades, semiconductors have doubled in efficiency 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. Because older generations run on older processors, they work much harder to produce the same result, and that extra work costs more electricity. Plus, stay tuned for newer SKUs, which are often released on a rolling basis by the 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.

Reducing waste in resource provision

It’s important to avoid falling into the common “set and forget” trap, as industry surveys often find companies complaining about wasted cloud spending. Keep an eye on your cloud environment by using monitoring tools to quickly identify and address overprovisioning. Not only does this help you get the most out of your cloud budget, but running an efficient cloud environment with as few cloud resources as possible also reduces the power consumption of your applications.

Control where and when applications run

One of the most important ways to reduce the carbon impact of your cloud environment is to focus on using the cleanest energy possible. The data centers you choose to work in and how you run your workloads across them are important. Certain data centers usually run on cleaner energy and are little dependent on fossil fuels.

In addition, the carbon intensity of the energy that powers a data center often fluctuates depending on several factors. When demand on the grid is high, fossil fuels usually make the difference, making the energy produced at that time dirtier. The weather is also a factor, with grids connected to wind farms or solar panels regularly oscillating based on the availability of renewable energy sources. So by running your time-flexible applications at different times or in different regions, you can further reduce the carbon impact of your cloud environment.

Run efficient processes and code

Determine the frequency of ongoing processes needed to meet business needs (for example, the frequency of data ingestion from your data warehouse or batch transaction processes), as well as your carbon targets. Improvements in code efficiency can also have a real impact on an application’s carbon footprint. Each condition amounts to checking a “switch” and putting it on a transistor on a semiconductor, so the fewer conditions your code has to run, the less power a processor needs.

ESG: a daily practice

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

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

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