Green Cloud Computing: How to make your business more sustainable

As the years tick by and the Earth warms up, the pressure is on for businesses to find sustainable ways of operating. In the world of IT, this is no easy task considering that nearly 1% of all energy related GHG emissions come from data centers and data transmission networks. Huge amounts of energy are required to keep society’s technological advancements moving forward, and this means radically rethinking how we architect our infrastructure.  

The good news is that there are already several clear ways that businesses can improve their sustainability – one of them being to move to the cloud. We sat down with the Leaseweb Director of Product Strategy, Robert van der Meulen, to learn more. 

How moving to the cloud can make your business greener

Running your infrastructure on a server in a data center uses power even when your applications or platforms are not being used. The infrastructure needs to be prepared to handle the maximum amount of traffic, even though at times it sits idle. The result is that energy – and money – are continuously being spent to maintain that capacity and thus are at times wasted. 

What the cloud does is to combine the compute and storage capacity of multiple servers into one platform. Then multiple applications or customers (‘tenants’) can use this capacity for their applications, maximizing the efficiency of the underlying infrastructure. “Rather than having loads of overhead not being used, all the equipment is used to the maximum so that it’s more energy efficient and no energy is wasted,” explains Robert. “In a cloud landscape, you have the flexibility, so you can spin up additional capacity when you need it, and spin down when you don’t need it.

This means that the cloud is greener compared to traditional servers in the following ways:

Less production emissions 

Since less hardware is required, fewer emissions will be produced as a result of building the equipment. This includes the emissions produced when mining for electrical materials but especially manufacturing the hardware in factories. There’s also less equipment to discard at the end of its life cycle.

Less energy expenditure and waste

Fewer servers mean less energy is used to power, cool, and maintain the equipment. This saves a significant amount of energy, but the nature of cloud computing also means that any energy used is not being wasted. In fact, a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that by moving to the cloud, the energy footprint of software applications can be reduced by as much as 87%! 

More efficient cooling process 

The physical space needed for applications running on the cloud is reduced, meaning that cooling systems are more efficient. This also means less water is used. 

Travel emissions

The cloud has made remote working possible and – thanks to a certain virus – this is very much becoming the norm. The emissions produced by employees travelling to work every day can thus be significantly reduced.  

Green Coding and Green Data Centers 

But of course, moving to the cloud isn’t enough to make your infrastructure perfectly sustainable. “As Kermit the frog put it – it’s not easy being green!” Robert says. “Much like buying an energy saving bulb and then leaving the lights on 24/7, the way you run your cloud infrastructure also needs to be done in an efficient way in order to operate sustainably.” Green Coding is a collection of principles that developers can use to ensure their infrastructure runs efficiently. Restricting coding to shorter lengths is one example of this. 

Then there’s the question of how green the data center itself is. The Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of a data center is important to investigate as it indicates what choices are being made about energy expenditure. The example of the lights is easy to understand and close to home, but next to the lights, there is a lot of additional infrastructure required to run a data center. Cooling systems, networking infrastructure, storage and other components all contribute to the energy consumption of a data center. Using those minimally and effectively drives the PUE down – and the greener the data center, the more effort is invested in doing just that. The lower the PUE, the better.  

Is the cloud more expensive?

As with any sustainable solution, the fear is that being green means spending more green. The truth is that in the long run, moving to the cloud can actually save your business money. The fact that the cloud is more flexible and energyefficient means you’re not paying for idle capacity or wasted electricity. While initially, moving to the cloud will feel like a big expense, your business – and the planet – will reap the rewards down the line.

Hybrid approach

It’s also worth noting that in some cases, such as applications or functions that are used continuously, a hybrid approach might be better than fully moving to the cloud. If you are using most of the capacity of a single dedicated server 24/7, there is not as much energy wastage as in the cases described above, and it would therefore not necessarily be greener (or cheaper) to move to the cloud. 

On-premises servers vs. data centers

While it’s become almost standard for businesses to host their data in third-party data centers, there are still many companies running their own on-premises servers. This is by far the least sustainable way of running infrastructure as it is incredibly inefficient. Instead of one big data center cooling and powering thousands of servers at once, thousands of on-premises servers are being cooled and powered separately and wasting huge amounts of energy in the process. Not to mention the extra costs involved in hiring people to maintain those servers. Therefore, while moving to the cloud is the most energyefficient method, moving to a third-party data center is in itself a major step towards sustainability. 

Use fewer apps

“A simple way to save energy is to not use something,” says Robert. “Many people buy tools or applications for their departments and then within one company, there are all these different tools being used. Each of these tools takes up capacity in a data center, which in turn needs to be powered and cooled. So, centralizing solutions within a company is something that helps a lot to reduce energy consumption and is something to think about across departments.  

Communicate with your suppliers 

“It’s important that you can discuss sustainable options with your supplier,” Robert explains. “One benefit that we have at Leaseweb is that we talk about these things with our customers. We’re very reachable, and our goal in general is to have a good relationship with the customers that we serve. We’re very happy to help people think about how they can do better when it comes to sustainability.” 

Leaseweb takes sustainability seriously, with the goal of using 90% renewable energy and recycled materials by 2025. We are a founding member of the Climate Neutral Data Center Pact and are constantly scrutinizing how to improve the sustainability of our data centers.

So, is moving to the cloud greener?

In most cases, yes – but as Robert explains, this is not the beall and endall of green computing. The way in which data centers manage their energy expenditure and how infrastructure is architected from the business’ side all add up to the overall energy footprint. See what Leaseweb has to offer with cloud computing here.

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