The need for sustainability in Cloud computing  

Data has become one of the world’s essential commodities, with some of the largest industries in the world transforming their ways of operating through the adoption of Cloud computing. Notably, however, the increase in volume of data is placing immense pressure on data centres. To fulfil this demand, the global electricity demand to run millions of servers in data centres all over the world is estimated to be 1%, forecasted to grow to between 15-30% of electricity consumption in some countries by 2030. 

Today, global Cloud computing emissions contribute to 4% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), which is expected to exceed other types of emissions such as commercial flights, illustrating how data centres and Cloud computing is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. With the three main Cloud providers – Amazon Web Service (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud – having an oligopoly in the Cloud service environment, there is a need to act on GHG contributions.  

To secure a sustainable future, Cloud providers must prioritise sustainability to reduce their carbon footprint 

Currently, the carbon footprint of a data centre is impacted by the electricity consumption required to run the servers. Subsequently this leads one to question: “What investments should Cloud providers have in place to face the environmental challenge?” Currently, Cloud leaders have developed proprietary carbon footprint measurement tools using their own hypotheses to address this issue.  

Microsoft Azure offers an ‘Emissions Impact Dashboard’ calculator, which presents estimation of GHG emissions associated with a customer’s use of Azure. Google Cloud has created a tailored ‘Google Carbon Footprint’ where GHG measurements related to power consumption of Cloud services can be provided. And the final key player, AWS, has created a specialised ‘Customer Carbon Footprint Tool’, which encompasses GHG measurement related to power consumption of Cloud services. Most Cloud players do not currently offer sufficient information or transparency to be able to assess the environmental impact of their subscribed services. The exception is Microsoft, which offers a calculator for certain Azure services. No other Cloud provider provides a calculator for estimating the environmental footprint of subscribed services.  

Cloud Leaders have developed proprietary carbon footprint measurement tools using their own hypotheses. This makes it difficult to compare between providers and should only be used as a benchmark to monitor usage over time

Supporting the transformation of Wavestone's clients to meet environmental challenges

To address the environmental impact of Cloud computing, we are working closely with our clients to help achieve their environmental goals and reduce carbon footprint.

One of the key initiatives we have deployed to help our clients understand their carbon footprint is a tool we developed for calculating GHG emissions of an IT estate. It has already been successfully deployed with several clients across different sectors including utilitise, insurance and education sectors. By deploying the tool, our clients have been able to increase their transparency in tracking GHG emissions, enabling them to identify the largest areas of GHG emissions and mitigate accordingly.

Our digital sustainability team recently worked with a client to help monitor and optimise Cloud usage. Using an open-source application, it enabled the user to combine information from different Cloud providers to estimate energy usage and GHG emissions. The application was then used to create a proof-of-concept (POC) reporting tool for the client.​

GHG Emissions Reduction Roadmaps

One of our clients had an ambition to reduce direct GHG emissions to net zero by 2050. As part of this ambition, the IT team wanted a better understanding of their environmental footprint and to subsequently develop a reduction strategy which would contribute to the net zero GHG emissions target of the company.

In this context, Wavestone applied an approach to define methods of measurements of GHG and gather best and emerging practices to reduce GHG emissions in IT. This resulted in the creation of a high-level roadmap for planning and execution of activities of the remaining phases of a Sustainable IT strategy.

GreenOps experience

GreenOps is a method for optimising the environmental impact of an organisation’s Cloud consumption. With the growing importance of carbon footprints and the objectives to reduce the environmental impact, a client was looking to determine the POC of their Cloud carbon footprint.​

We helped our client monitor and optimize Cloud usage and understand computing costs with the implementation of the FinOps approach. As a result, we produced a solution measuring cO2 emission measurement, developed an installation guide of the Cloud Carbon Footprint, and provided suggestions to the open-source community to improve the application.

The journey ahead for carbon tracking

Although Cloud providers contribute new tools, the electricity that we consume in public Cloud data centres is not the only element we should monitor. New KPIs on carbon usage effectiveness should be considered especially within grey areas such as optimising water-cooling systems in data centres, which can also reduce the carbon footprint.

In summary, leaders need to consider the prospects for short and long-term sustainability value creation and how to manage risks associated with GHG. We believe carbon tracking remains the key to sustainable success as it creates a clear picture of your footprint and highlights opportunities to reduce carbon emissions.