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Proactively Reducing the Environmental Impact of Cloud

09.03.2021
Beth Hewitt Marketing Manager

In this blog, we look at the progress made by the cloud industry in reducing carbon emissions and the importance of incorporating environmental impact into infrastructure decisions.

The Progress Made by the Cloud Industry

While there are concerns over the long-term environmental impact of cloud computing, there have been considerable signs of improvement in recent years. The progress has been aided by the growing efforts of the three leading cloud providers, who have put policies in place to offset and reduce their contributions to the climate crisis. Although there is a significant way to go, it is encouraging to see initiatives of this nature in motion.

The largest cloud provider, AWS have committed to running their infrastructure using 100% renewable energy and have so far invested in 59 wind and solar projects, 68 on-site solar systems and 127 global renewable energy projects. Microsoft have developed their own Sustainability Calculator, to help businesses analyse the carbon emissions of the Azure services they use, and they have also committed to powering their data centres by 100% renewable energy by 2025. As for Google, they’ve matched 100% of their electricity consumption with renewable energy purchases since 2017 and by 2030 they aim to completely operate on clean energy 24/7, across every region.

What these examples show is companies recognising the very immediate need to address the ongoing climate crisis. As made evident by COVID-19, the use of cloud technology is only set to become more ubiquitous. Therefore, it is important that its future is responsibly safeguarded, by ensuring data centre energy usage doesn’t further exacerbate the climate challenges we’re facing.

The Importance of Including Environmental Impact in Decision-Making

While it’s important that cloud providers take responsibility to improve the infrastructure and services they offer, there is also onus on businesses to be conscious of the options available to them when they use cloud.

Microsoft’s Sustainability Calculator is a great tool for this as it offers enterprises the ability to understand and analyse the environmental impact of their IT infrastructure and identify the main contributing factors to their emissions. However, although the level of detail their dashboard provides is very useful, there are a couple of things to remember:

  1. This tool is only applicable to users of Microsoft Azure.
  2. It only provides retrospective data on the carbon emissions associated with cloud usage.

This means that if a particular workload has a negative environmental impact, or it could have reduced its impact by using a different machine or a different data centre, the company won’t know until after it has been run. Therefore, the information can only be used to influence future decisions.

A more valuable use of this data would be for it to enable businesses to pre-empt their carbon emissions and make adjustments before they press “Go”. With a tool that could integrate data on the relative environmental impact of each available option, businesses could make informed decisions, on a workload-by-workload basis.

This is the value the YellowDog Index brings to the YellowDog Platform. As an integration to our Platform, this free resource enables businesses to make proactive decisions. The Index scans the cloud market, collecting information about the machines available and categorises them based on the environmental impact of the data centre’s energy source. Our Platform then uses this information in its automated provisioning strategies, so businesses can find the right source of cloud compute based on their preferences and constraints. Using our Best Source of Compute algorithms, businesses are given a report before they run their workload, to show them why the computing resources were selected. This gives them an opportunity to make adjustments, if they wish, before they spend any money.

The combination of the YellowDog Index’s wealth of data and the intelligent algorithms within the Platform, gives users all the information they need before they commit to a chosen machine. They can save costs, improve performance and reduce their environmental impact, without the manual calculation and resulting headache!

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