Cloud isn’t always greener
Cloud has rapidly become the dominant platform for enterprise technology. Many business executives instinctively understand the transformative potential of cloud, when it comes to flexibility, agility and scalability. But less well understood is the environmental impact of moving to the cloud.
Too often, business execs assume that by moving to the cloud they’re being green. After all, shifting from power-hungry, often decades-old, on-premises data centers to something new in the cloud should surely be better for the planet? What’s more, some of the biggest cloud providers claim carbon neutrality through renewable energy credits and powering newer facilities with renewables.
It’s an appealing vision. But the facts aren’t quite so simple. Yes, the cloud provider’s hyperscale infrastructure can be more energy efficient than on-premise data centers, but data centers account for ~1% of global energy use — and that figure is rising.
Here’s the thing: every workload that you move to the cloud uses energy. And some workloads are real energy hogs. One recent study showed that training a single machine learning model produced as much carbon emissions as 125 roundtrip flights from New York to Beijing.
And often, your dev teams will be unaware of the energy use of various workloads, unintentionally consuming more than necessary. Here’s where green cloud thinking comes in.
A green cloud strategy stresses the need for analysis and optimization so that you can understand the environmental impact of your cloud computing and curtail the cloud’s growing carbon footprint and energy demand.
And there are strong business reasons for adopting green cloud strategies. These include:
- Reduce costs by optimizing workloads to run more efficiently, using fewer resources, in the cloud
- Boost sustainability efforts by reducing your carbon footprint.
- Improve customer experience by creating more responsive applications that use less energy
- Decrease time to market for digital products by removing inefficiencies that consume unnecessary storage or compute resources
- Attract and retain talent by taking positive action on climate change
- Attract investors who are increasingly seeing sustainability as a core business competence
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it
Online makers portal Etsy is at the forefront of green cloud thinking. It set up a Sustainable Computing Taskforce to reduce its environmental impact. It’s goal: to reduce the intensity of its energy use by a quarter by 2025, including it’s office operations and its computing footprint.
And as part of that initiative, Etsy moved from collocated data centers to Google’s cloud — attracted in part by the energy efficiency of its cloud infrastructure. In doing so, it lost its ability to measure energy consumption — something it felt uneasy with. That’s why it developed a methodology to measure energy consumption, based on usage data and publicly available information such as emissions factors and Google Cloud’s power usage effectiveness (PUE).
Armed with that knowledge, Etsy has been able to make significant progress on its goal to reduce energy usage associated with its workloads.
Why is this possible? One reason is that cloud is different to on-premises operations. If you simply lift and shift workloads from on-prem to the cloud, you’re missing an opportunity. Running an application that was designed to run in a data center without modifying it for the cloud can result in significant network traffic.