written by: Conor Powell, Data Scientist, Vega Cloud
In a previous blog post, we discussed ways to efficiently cut your usage in the cloud while lowering your organization’s overall carbon footprint. However, our recommendations assumed that companies migrated from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud. Arguably, the most significant challenge regarding sustainability exists in the migration itself, given that large enterprises are one of the most important contributors to climate change and carbon emissions (1). Changes in manufacturing, supply chain, building new data servers, or developing new products will impact the climate and environment we work and live in. The Recapture report on Fortune 500 companies’ carbon emissions also noted that “the total carbon footprint of the 500 largest companies in the U.S. economy represents more than 27% of worldwide emissions.” (2) Pair that with the estimation that large enterprises are striving to have roughly 60 percent of their environment in the cloud by 2025. (3) Unsurprisingly, not just sustainability-focused enterprises are having questions about the environmental impact of being on the cloud, let alone the cost of migrating to it. Therefore, exploring if it can decrease an organization’s carbon footprint by migrating to the cloud is a worthwhile topic to explore.
Many promises come with the allure of migrating to the cloud: on-demand infrastructure, immediate scaling, advanced analytics, and a plethora of choices for each solution. The cornucopia of benefits to facilitate your technology infrastructure sounds too good to be true, and a healthy amount of skepticism is expected. So, how exactly does migrating to the cloud decrease your organization’s carbon footprint? One way is through reusing infrastructure. It is a widely reported benefit that companies using cloud platforms as infrastructure are relieved of the costly responsibility of purchasing and maintaining physical hardware. Instead, CSPs (Cloud Service Providers) look after the underlying physical layer, allowing users to reuse virtual infrastructure they can provision from CSPs while reducing usage when it is unnecessary. (Think of this type of exchange like you would selling or buying a used car; the car’s carbon footprint is shared amongst multiple users, decreasing the overall carbon footprint by not creating various products to accomplish the products’ overall goal.) With on-demand and spot usage, unused and often forgotten resources can be leveraged to their maximum for cost and usage efficiency. In traditional data centers, spare computing power could only be reallocated to those in the organization, which might not need said usage at the end of the day. Upgrades to your infrastructure come at a significantly lower cost compared to traditional enterprise data centers. Upgrading to a different server or virtual machine type translates to an increase in the availability of the former variety for immediate use by others, compared to attempting to recycle and clean previously used hardware.
Public Cloud has been a game-changer for the technology industry over the last decade, and with that status has come heavy investments for improvements. AWS, for instance, went from being founded in 2006 to now having an annual revenue of $80 billion in just 17 years (4). With that, intense investments have come coupled with the difficulty of researching and attempting new solutions for smaller organizations. For instance, Microsoft’s Project Natick is “A research project to determine the feasibility of subsea datacenters powered by offshore renewable energy (5).” While sub-sea datacenters are not currently available to Microsoft clients, they attest to the type of sustainable research projects often unavailable to smaller organizations. Public cloud providers can also efficiently use their scale to decrease customer workload carbon footprint by up to 96% (6); with the monstrous growth that public cloud providers are experiencing, their ability to broker climate-focused deals at a larger scale than most organizations is a critical factor for any client, especially those in a non-traditional technical capacity.
According to an Accenture (2020) report, “Migrations to the public cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 59 million tons per year, which equates to taking 22 million cars off the road.” (7) While that statistic is general, a report from Microsoft shows the potential decrease in data center energy and claiming that Microsoft Azure is between 22% and 93% more energy efficient than traditional enterprise data centers. (8): These energy savings can be further enhanced depending on the data center’s renewable energy standards. The Microsoft report further claims, “When considering [Microsoft’s] renewable energy purchases, the Microsoft Cloud is between 72 and 98 percent more carbon efficient. (9) This also applies to potential data center upgrades that can be leveraged by organizations that might be ordinarily cost-prohibitive or lacking in organizational willpower. This can also be applied to renewable energy commitments and purchases through economies of scale. Especially given the significant goals set by CSPs for sustainable energy usage. Microsoft Azure has recently reported that their goal is to use 100% renewable energy by 2025 to achieve water positivity, zero waste by 2030, and net-zero deforestation for new construction. (10). AWS mirrors Azure’s 100% renewable energy goal while aiming to be net-zero carbon by 2040, along with the rest of Amazon. (11). To round out the largest three cloud service providers, Google, with its Google Cloud Platform, aims to be net-zero emissions and carbon-free by 2030. (12). The significant players in the public cloud are all aiming to have a substantial increase in overall sustainability compared to traditional solutions.
Public Cloud will be the mainstay of technology infrastructure for the foreseeable future and will impact our climate. However, long-term energy and emissions goals from CSPs and their ability to decrease usage for most enterprises means we will have a cleaner way to build and scale our organizations without worry. Sharing unused resources and taking advantage of other resources means fewer overall products will be created to meet needs. Migrating to the cloud will decrease your carbon footprint and emissions, but long-term sustainability requires proper care and upkeep of your cloud environment.
(7) Accentrue. (2020). Green Behind Cloud. Accenture.
(6) Amazon. (2023). The Cloud. Retrieved from Amazon Sustainability: https://sustainability.aboutamazon.com/products-services/the-cloud?energyType=true
(11) AWS. (2023). Sustainability. Retrieved from AWS: https://aws.amazon.com/sustainability/
(12)Google Cloud. (2023). Google Cloud. Retrieved from Sustainability: https://cloud.google.com/sustainability
(3) McKinsey. (2022). Project the global value of cloud: $3 trillion is up for grabs for copmanies that go beyond adoption. McKinsey.
(8) (9) Microsoft. (2020). The carbon benefits of cloud computing: A study on Microsoft Cloud in partnership with WSP. Bellevue: Microsoft.
(5) Microsoft. (2023). Project Natick. Retrieved from Microsoft: https://natick.research.microsoft.com/
(10) Microsoft Azure. (2023). Sustainability. Retrieved from Microsoft: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/explore/global-infrastructure/sustainability
(1) Recapture. (2019). Fortune 500 Emissions Report 2018–2019. Recapture.
(4) Statista. (2023). Annunal revenue of Amazon Web Services (AWS) from 2013 to 2022. Retrieved 2023, from Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/233725/development-of-amazon-web-services-revenue/
Hansbury, L. (2021, June 30). 8 ways to Leverage the Cloud to Reduce Your Ecological Cost. Retrieved from Contino: https://www.contino.io/insights/cloud-ecological-cost
John Roach. (2020, September 14). Microsoft finds underwater datacenters are reliable, practical and use energy sustainably. Retrieved from Microsoft: https://news.microsoft.com/source/features/sustainability/project-natick-underwater-datacenter/