It’s time to address the environmental impact of the cloud

the cloud

The cloud has become a vital tool of business and industry but many organisations fail to consider the impact it has on the environment.

The cloud consists of over 7.2 million power-hungry data centres across the world that take huge amounts of electricity to power and millions of gallons of water to cool , 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Annually, the internet produces the same amount of carbon as Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangladesh, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mongolia combined. Lancaster University estimates that the cloud is responsible for between a quarter and 1.5 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, equating to at least 100 million tonnes per year.

“We often talk about ‘the cloud’ as if data is hosted ’somewhere in the sky’, and, in not thinking about it as a physical entity,” said Amy Czuba, account director at Nexer Digital.

 “With data centres only projected to increase significantly over the next five years as more aspects of life and work become digitalised, and rapid progress required to meet the government’s 2050 Net Zero target, we can no longer afford to think about the cloud as an intangible, invisible entity with no real environmental impact.

 “And, despite the efforts of many big tech companies to offset their carbon emissions and promises to replenish, recycle and preserve as much water as they use to cool their data centres, they need to consider the impact they’re causing to the environment in which they operate, and take steps to reduce energy consumption in the first place.”

One of the most impactful ways an organisation can minimise the impact of its servers on the environment is to use green-powered data centres, or to invest in greener technology. Microsoft is just one example and in recent years it has increased accessibility to serverless and open-source software, which minimises the cooling processes and ventilation required in its data centres.

 “When it comes to hosting, organisations should check that their service provider has a meaningful sustainability statement and policies around usage of green energy in data centres as well as other facilities and wider eco-credentials in energy efficiency,” Czuba continued. “The best policies will have tangible, measurable commitments rather than vague statements. The Green Web Foundation has a directory of sustainable hosts, which is a useful resource if an existing host isn’t ticking all the boxes.”

Organisations should also consider the different types of data generated and held, and whether storing it is necessary. Unbeknown to many, storing unnecessary data is a key carbon emitter, and with an estimated 90 per cent of all data becoming redundant three months after it’s created, the scale of the problem is huge.

An organisation may have servers full of documents that are surplus to requirement, for example, or be retaining emails from five or more years ago that are no longer needed. Significant improvements can be made with small changes and by instilling good habits, such as deleting all emails over two or three years old and removing duplicate files as they’re identified.

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