Cloud sustainability

To what extent does running your IT solutions in the cloud affect the environment and climate change? As the trend continues that more and more businesses either move IT solutions to the cloud or increase usage of cloud solutions, the impact that a handful of cloud provider has in terms of their energy consumption and handling of resources will become more significant.

Paul D Johnston has written some good blog posts on the topic and I can recommend reading his blog post What do Climate Change, Data Centres and Cloud have to do with each other? as well as listen to the Screaming In the Cloud podcast episode where Corey Quinn interviews him.

In the report that Paul Jonhston refers to in his blog and the podcast episode, if the choice of cloud provider would be based on the reduction of the carbon footprint, then GCP would be the winning choice, followed by Azure and a bit further behind Amazon Web Services.

Only GCP and Azure reports being essentially carbon neutral, while AWS has reached that for 5 regions (4 if GovCloud is excluded). Datacenter carbon footprint in general and in particular Cloud provider carbon footprint is not really a topic that is discussed publically in the general population. Perhaps because it is a rather abstract area for many people. However, many energy companies allow people to buy “green energy” and if you book a flight ticket, chances are good that the airline provides information about the carbon footprint of the flight you are booking.

The same should really apply and be under consideration for IT strategies in general and cloud services in particular. In the same way, as you can set up billing alerts when cloud resource spending reaches a threshold, perhaps there should also be carbon footprint alerts? Would carbon footprint and resource consumption of a solution be a factor to consider in an architecture? I think it will be and I think some kind of reporting from the cloud providers will become important.

Also, being open about progress in a provider’s sustainability is also vital, at least at a high level. I do wish also that companies also report results in absolute numbers also, rather than percentages in relation to a budget, revenue or similar metric - the absolute numbers are those that need to go down.