Can the Cloud be Truly Sustainable?

By Adam Gaca, Vice President of Cloud Solutions at Future Processing.

  • 2 months ago Posted in

As part of their digital transformation strategies, organisations have been actively investing in cloud computing. According to Statista, 30% of corporate data was stored in the cloud in 2015, which increased to 60% in 2022. Cloud computing adoption has surged in demand in recent years, largely accelerated by the pandemic as it showed businesses the importance of accessing their computing infrastructure from anywhere, at any time. 

Our everyday tasks are increasingly being supported by the cloud and the technology’s future looks promising. Gartner reports that by 2028, more than 50% of enterprises will use industry cloud platforms to accelerate their business initiatives. This growth is due to the cloud’s ability to increase efficiency, flexibility, scalability and security. More recently, the cloud has also been recognised for its ability to reduce organisations’ carbon footprint. Despite this, there remain some doubts over how sustainable cloud computing really is.

Driving Sustainability

Sustainability has never been higher on the public agenda, and businesses are increasingly moving towards new solutions to reduce their impact on the environment. By adopting cloud technology, organisations can significantly reduce their carbon footprint. For instance, unlike traditional computing, cloud providers share the same servers and storage, among multiple users. Therefore, fewer resources are needed overall, reducing energy consumption and overall carbon output. 

As businesses invest less in their own physical servers, networking equipment, and data centre facilities, electronic waste is significantly decreased. When migrating to the cloud, users may not be aware that they are a part of a wider sustainable movement. This is because cloud data centres will often use more advanced, energy-efficient technologies, reducing total energy consumption for an organisation’s IT operations.

New and Improved Data Centres

Cloud technology can reduce an organisation’s impact on the environment, but at the same time, the cloud has its own carbon footprint, running on data centres that store important computing infrastructure. To power these data centres, huge amounts of water and electricity are needed. With cloud adoption significantly increasing, the consensus was that the increase in data centres would negatively impact the environment. However, leading public cloud providers have implemented new technologies to shake off these unstainable claims. 

New techniques such as liquid cooling, free cooling, and hot and cold aisle containment, reduce the amount of energy consumed by data centres, along with overall waste. Any excessive heat generated by data centres is reused for alternative purposes, such as providing warmth to nearby buildings or supporting agricultural activities. Meanwhile, these data centres are running on renewable energy sources including solar, wind and hydroelectric power, reducing total carbon emissions in the longer term.

A Promising Future Ahead

Along with these new advancements in sustainability, leading public cloud providers have made promises towards a more environmentally friendly approach in the near future. Microsoft Azure has pledged to have 100% of its electricity consumption matched by zero-carbon energy purchases by 2030, and Google Cloud’s goal is to achieve net-zero emissions across all of its operations and value chain by 2030. Meanwhile, the biggest public cloud hyper scaler, Amazon Web Services, has committed to reaching net-zero carbon across its operations by 2040.

These are only a few of the pledges made by the ‘big three players’ who are actively investing in innovative ways to drive sustainability. Through the introduction of renewable energy sources and new advancements in sustainable technologies, like energy-efficient servers and cooling systems, the industry has made promising advancements to achieving true sustainability.

A Green Cloud

Cloud computing’s introduction has been revolutionary and has proven its capabilities to positively transform a business’ operations. However, despite some concerns over the increase in data centres and their potential impact on the environment, new advancements in technology have meant that the cloud is more sustainable than traditional computing. 

Achieving true sustainability, however, is no easy task, and a range of organisations in multiple industries have been met with the challenge of becoming net zero. Ultimately, if the leading public cloud providers can meet their commitment to advancing sustainability, the industry is certain to move towards a brighter, more greener, future.

By Jake Madders, Co-founder and Director of Hyve Managed Hosting.
By David Gammie, CTO, iomart.
By Brian Sibley, Solutions Architect, Espria.
By Lori MacVittie, F5 Distinguished Engineer.
By Adriaan Oosthoek, Chairman Portus Data Centers.
By Jo Debecker, Managing Partner and Global Head of Wipro FullStride Cloud.
By Tim Whiteley, Co-Founder of Inevidesk.