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Cloud computing and the journey to net zero - why GreenOps is key to sustainable growth

Author: Chris Hazell, Programme Manager for Cloud, techUK

At a time when our commitment to mitigate the impact of climate change has never been more urgent, a sustainable approach to technology should be at the heart of any digital transformation strategy. This year one of the key themes of techUK's Cloud Week is the intersection of sustainability and cloud optimisation. 

Cloud has become a key driver of the UK’s digital economy, giving businesses of all sizes and sectors access to computing resources that are flexible and scalable on-demand. Applications, platforms, data storage and infrastructure can all be delivered as a service, allowing for more flexible and efficient use of resources and potentially a reduction in energy use, water consumption and carbon footprint relative to legacy infrastructure.   

This makes it an appealing option for many organisations, with a recent Gartner CEO survey reporting that 70% of business leaders focusing on sustainability initiatives will look to public cloud to achieve these outcomes by 2026. The good news is that many cloud providers recognise this demand and are investing in renewable energy, hardware recycling and more efficient energy and water use in data centres.   

The role of cloud in a green transition

By moving to a consumption-based cloud model, businesses can potentially cut their energy use and carbon footprint relative to older legacy infrastructure. Cloud has some inherent advantages over traditional CapEx-based procurement, including more efficient use of hardware through virtualisation and multi-tenancy, the flexibility to dynamically match provisioning of services to business needs, and the ability of customers to benefit from ongoing investments made by cloud providers without the need for their own capital investment. 

According to a report by Accenture, cloud utilisation can reduce carbon emissions by 35-45% compared to legacy IT. This is supported by recent research into the energy efficiency of European data centres that suggests the higher utilisation rates and more frequently updated technology of cloud infrastructure could reduce energy usage of running business applications by nearly 80% when compared with on-premises enterprise data centres. Data from Google on electricity savings resulting from a move to cloud paints a similar picture. 

However, while cloud has huge potential advantages for carbon savings, achieving the best possible environmental outcomes requires both providers and users of cloud services to take shared responsibility for sustainability and regularly review best practice at every level. 

For cloud providers, this means continued investment in energy and resource efficiency and giving customers access to more granular and specific data about the environmental impact of their cloud consumption, including access to Scope 3 data wherever possible.

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