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In-depth

What is green cloud?

Tech firms can do their bit to support our march to a zero carbon lifestyle by cleaning up their cloud

The world is running out of fossil fuels and the little it has left can only be accessed at increasingly high costs. Alongside this, countries and organisations are committing to net-zero carbon targets in a bid to offset fossil fuel use.

A large reason for the net-zero carbon pledges is consumer pressure, with the general public far more aware of their own impact on the environment than ever before. This has seen the rise in certain lifestyle changes, such as electric cars or solar panels added to homes, to reduce carbon footprints. 

These green-friendly consumers are looking to work and do business with like-minded companies and tech firms can speed up their own pace towards zero carbon emissions with green cloud technologies.   

The complexities of green cloud

The colour green has become synonymous with environmentally friendly things and in the context of cloud computing, it's about running data centres with low-carbon output. However, there are more components in the equation than just the power being used to keep a facility operational. The materials used to make the building can also be sourced and produced in ways that don't damage the environment, and that even includes the maintaining of the structure, the whole lifecycle matters.  

Even looking at just energy consumption paints a complex picture; renewables are key sources of energy, but other factors, such as how energy efficient a data centre is, or how it distributes energy around the building are also key considerations.

All of this means that understanding how green a green cloud provider is can be complex. Subhankar Pal, assistant vice president of technology and innovation at Capgemini company Altran, tells IT Pro: “Firms can discover their green-ness by establishing a way to evaluate green KPIs during tests and in production. Green KPIs will be derived from metrics like energy efficiency, cooling efficiency, computing infrastructure performance, thermal and air management metrics.”

Prioritising sustainability matters

Consumers are increasingly adopting sustainability models in their everyday life, and are often prepared to pay more for items that meet environmental credentials. The principles that lead people to look for green energy providers, reduced and recyclable packing in purchased goods, and ethically sourced clothing are the same principles that drive them away from companies that lack green credentials. Firms that add green cloud into their mix stand to gain in reputation, regardless of whether their clients are consumers or other businesses.

As Emma Roscow, Intelligent cloud infrastructure lead for Accenture UKI explains: “Business strategy is increasingly focused on sustainability, with many companies making commitments to reduce their carbon footprint. In fact, 99% of CEOs from large companies now agree that sustainability issues are important to the future success of their businesses.” 

It’s not just about good PR, though – the real environmental gains matter too. Roscow adds: “Accenture recently found that public cloud migrations could reduce global carbon emissions by 59 million tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road.” 

Lead the way and keep a clear head

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Given the depletion of fossil fuels and push towards renewables, the move to green cloud is ultimately inevitable. For Pal, the time is right to make the move. “The reason to do this now is because some firms are already experiencing higher cost pressures, and they could be more cost implications in the long run. There could be stricter government regulations, penalties, and higher operational costs for managing non-green data centres,” he says.

But the move should be made with a clear head. Nick Mcquire, vice president, enterprise research at CCS Insight tells IT Pro: “We are seeing the cloud providers posturing over ‘my cloud is cleaner than your cloud’ as they commit on the one hand, to massive infrastructure build-outs to sustain demand and differentiate their platforms, and the ability for this infrastructure to be friendly on the planet on the other.” He advises, “customers should push their cloud providers hard on providing energy data around where they place their cloud workloads and for innovation in areas that can cut their energy emissions.”

Roscow highlights some additional factors to be taken into account including, within any firm, “the current hardware’s lifecycle, approach to application development, their sustainable business models and processes, and how they use the cloud to create circular operations”.

There is no easy, off the shelf, method of deciding when and how to make the move to green cloud. Each firm will need to do its own research on both cloud services and its wider use of IT – and that research might be much more in-depth than you think. Roscow puts this plainly – if surprisingly – when she reveals that “Accenture Labs’ research found that even the choice of coding language can impact energy consumption by as much as fifty times, depending on the programming technique”. 

Despite these twists and turns, there is no doubt the move to green cloud is coming for tech firms as for all others. Making the move sooner rather than later might be better financially and reputationally – as well as for the planet.

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