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Cloud and the Climate Crisis in 2022

Cloud can make a strong contribution to reducing our impact on the environment, meeting ESG targets, and giving confidence to investors and consumers concerned about net-zero, but the market will need to move beyond “lift and shift” to build a sustainable cloud.

With COP26 behind us, and investors, governments, and the general public increasingly concerned about how we can meet our climate goals, businesses will need to think carefully about their own net-zero strategy and how they can be more sustainable in 2022.

Moving operations to the Cloud is an obvious choice for organisations looking to reduce their impact on the environment, meet Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) targets, and become more attractive to climate conscious investors and customers.

As the UK’s Cloud market continues to grow in 2022, many businesses that adopted Cloud as a crisis-management choice during the pandemic will be developing a long-term strategy for their post-pandemic IT systems. In that context, it is important to recognise that not all Cloud setups are created equal and getting the most from the Cloud will require more than a “lift and shift” approach.  

Cloud is the greener option for end users

Even a basic IaaS migration – moving legacy applications from enterprise-owned hardware to the Cloud – will deliver a more efficient use of computing resources. Higher utilisation rates, more efficient cooling, and newer hardware optimised by the Cloud provider will all contribute to lower energy consumption. Sharing hardware resources via public Cloud can also mean more sustainable supply chains and no need for businesses to retain and periodically upgrade often unused capacity. These benefits will only get “greener” over time, as the ability to scale in the Cloud and take advantage of the latest technology without capital investment make business growth more sustainable.

More net-zero responsibility for Cloud providers

However, a growing Cloud market means more of the IT industry’s overall carbon footprint will be directly accounted for by Cloud providers, or in other distributed locations at the Edge.

This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the sector. On the one hand, it offers a huge opportunity to drive forward the net-zero agenda and demonstrate the positive contribution Cloud can make to meeting our climate and sustainability goals. However, it also opens providers and users to accusations of greenwashing if they are not taking full advantage of the environmental benefits made possible by Cloud and including sustainability as an ongoing metric of business performance.

As the market continues to mature, Cloud providers will need to ensure that growth is matched with investment in renewable energy, the most efficient cooling and data centre hardware, and by taking advantage of the distributed nature of the Cloud by prioritising access to renewable energy and harnessing data-driven real-time optimisation.

End users have an ongoing role to play in sustainable Cloud

Moving to the Cloud should be more than a “lift and shift” exercise. Getting the most out of the Cloud in terms of sustainability means re-engineering legacy applications and adopting an approach to software development that includes sustainability as a key goal. Designing applications to be “Cloud Native” – optimised to take full advantage of Cloud architecture – will lower power consumption.

Data management will also be an important factor in the long-term sustainability of the Cloud. Users should be proactive in identifying redundant or rarely used data that could be deleted or moved to cold storage. Businesses may need to retain previous versions of code or comprehensive log files but, as digital adoption grows, we are already seeing a corresponding growth in “junk data”.

A sustainable Cloud provider will offer tools to measure and report on carbon emissions associated with different workloads, and end users will be actively monitoring that data and using it to inform software development and their overall net-zero strategy.

As the UK moves forward with meeting the goals set at COP26, more work will be needed on accurately attributing carbon to cloud activity and developing industry-wide principles that will give executives access to trusted sustainability data and give investors and users confidence when reporting on their ESG targets and net-zero strategy.

techUK members are already working to develop these tools and incorporate sustainability as a core value for their organisations.

Sustainable Cloud requires ongoing partnership between Cloud providers and users

The Cloud industry can make a powerful and positive contribution to reducing our impact on the environment and meeting the UK’s net-zero ambitions, while enabling innovation and growth.

This opportunity will only increase as digital transformation continues to sweep through the economy and businesses look to Cloud as a cost-effective platform for harnessing the power of emerging technologies like AI, IoT, AR/VR, and Quantum.

Unlocking the full potential of a sustainable Cloud will require a pro-active and collaborative engagement between providers and end-users, ensuring that businesses have the tools to go beyond an initial infrastructure migration and become truly “Cloud Native”.

The contribution of a sustainable Cloud to achieving net-zero will be a key element of techUK’s Cloud Programme in 2022. We will be working with members to promote the good work already underway in the sector and build awareness and understanding of how Cloud can help make digital transformation a sustainable climate-friendly prospect in the year ahead.

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