The cloud footprint

Watching the cloud industry growth over the past decade has been a fascinating experience – one I have had the good fortune of watching from close quarters. A decade ago, the public cloud industry was born with Amazon Web Services promising the corporate world unlimited compute capacity wherever & whenever they needed it. Eversince, the cloud industry has cemented itself as one of the most significant sub-sectors to be established. It has democratised innovation for the masses and accelerated the timeline for technological growth.

On the flip side, these advances come with a price – one which is being extracted from our planet.

Today, the cloud industry contributes to
approximately 2% of global warming and is
set to surpass the aviation and shipping industries by 2025

On their part, cloud providers have been quick to acknowledge this growing concern and are rapidly transforming themselves to reduce their environmental footprint and positively impact climate change.

Whilst most in this industry are in a race to get to a carbon-neutral state, the more mature in the pack are focused on establishing themselves as ‘carbon-negative’ suppliers of cloud services. It is no surprise then that the biggest global buyers of renewable energy are the largest hyper-scale cloud providers.

Source: 2019 BloombergNEF

For a long time much of the focus has been to influence the source of energy powering the cloud – such as the move to renewable datacentres with the adoption of solar and wind energy. This creates its own set of challenges. Globally, demand outpaces supply in that we have an infrastructure shortfall desperate to meet the demands of the exponential growth in data. This has been further accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis with the world embracing remote-working, which in turn impacts global warming and overall greenhouse gas emmissions.

For example, everyone of us reading this blog is also an email user and creates approximately 600kg of CO2 per year on average. Unfortunately, most of that is powered by servers sourced from fossil fuels. Now, what if that weren’t the case and all our emails were powered by renewable energy sources all of the time? This negates the impact instantly.

When you extrapolate to the 2.9 billion email users on
the planet, emails alone account for
nearly 4% of global warming.

In the midst of this battle for sustainable cloud solutions, Google has been chipping away at this problem using their inherrent strength in data and analytics. They have cleverly repositioned data clusters on servers by prioritising workload requirements to synchronise with renewable energy sources.

They call this framework a carbon intelligent cloud. For example, peak workloads can be prioritised onto server grids that are 100% powered by renewable sources of energy, such as wind or solar. Other non-essential computations can be carried out at a later point in time when excess sources of renewable energy are available. This simple move to marry workloads to renewable energy sourced data processing servers dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of the cloud industry.

Google promises to release periodic findings from their experiences following their launch last month. In the days ahead, you can expect other cloud providers to reprogram their workload allocations in much the same way and help reduce carbon emmissions.

This is also good news for corporate clients and cloud consumers who are under increasing pressure and scrutiny to improve their sustainability footprint even as their data needs rise exponentially.

Fortunately, the cloud industry is perhaps best equipped to handle this growing dichotomy – it was born to deliver maximum change & innovation in the shortest available timeframe.

Guest contribtion by Vasu Gupta, Google Cloud.

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