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Companies are increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment and on striving to be more sustainable. However, many fail to recognize the scope 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 producing goods or consuming electricity, according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the majority of total corporate emissions can come from Scope 3 sources, which encompass the entire value chain. Thus, it’s critical for companies to consider the end-to-end carbon emissions of their IT infrastructure.
To get an accurate understanding of the carbon impact of their cloud operations, companies should understand not only what they have in their environments but how those systems are utilized 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 power composition is different across different geographies and can fluctuate with variables like weather and time of day, as well as the economics of power generation. When using external tools, it’s important to review their methodologies for calculating carbon emissions and ensuring that 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 employed
Deploy your services to newer generation hardware. Over the past several decades, semiconductors have on average doubled in efficiency every two years, in line with Moore’s Law. When choosing an SKU on which to run your cloud applications, choose the latest generation possible. Since older generations run on older processors, they work much harder to produce the same outcome, and that extra work consumes more electricity. Additionally, stay informed of newer SKUs, which are often released on a rolling basis by the major cloud providers. And because of newer hardware’s improved efficiency, newer SKUs often cost the same and occasionally less than their older counterparts.
Reducing waste in the provisioning of resources
It’s important to avoid falling into the common pitfall of “set it and forget it,” as industry surveys often show companies complaining about their wasted cloud spend. Keep track of your cloud environment by employing monitoring tools to quickly identify and address over-provisioning. Not only will this help you make the most of your cloud budget, but running an efficient cloud environment with as few cloud resources as possible cuts down on your applications’ energy consumption.
Deciding when and where applications are run
One of the most significant ways to reduce your cloud environment’s carbon impact is to focus on using the cleanest energy possible. The data centers that you choose to operate in and how you run your workloads across them are important. Certain data centers run on cleaner energy most of the time, with little reliance on fossil fuels.
Additionally, the carbon intensity of the energy powering a data center often fluctuates depending on a variety of factors. When demand on the power grid runs high, fossil fuels typically make up the difference, making the energy produced at those times dirtier. Weather is also a factor, with grids connected to wind farms or solar panels regularly oscillating based on renewable energy source availability. So, by running your time-flexible applications at different times or running them in different regions, you can further reduce your cloud environment’s carbon impact.
Running efficient processes and code
Determine the frequency of running processes needed to meet business needs (e.g., the data ingestion frequency of your data warehouse or batch transaction processes), as well as your carbon targets. Code efficiency improvements can also have a real impact on an application’s carbon footprint. Every conditional boils down to a “switch” being checked and set on a transistor on a semiconductor, so the fewer conditionals your code must execute, the less energy a processor will need.
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 deployment or at a certain snapshot in time but on a regular, ongoing basis.
Kelly Fleming is CIO and cofounder of cloud management platform Cirrus Nexus.
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