24 Nov 2021

Driving sustainability through cloud – are you aware of the opportunity?

Guest Blog: Kainos, as part of techUK's cloud week #CloudFuture

Over the last few decades, we’ve witnessed the cycle of acceptance play out on a global stage for our present climate emergency. Whilst much remains to be addressed to secure our planet for future generations, some positive strides forward were taken at the recent COP26 conference including global agreements to tackle deforestation, curbing methane emissions and starting to lay the path for a transition to clean energy. But what else can we do to make a difference? We can start by thinking about solutions differently and leveraging cloud technologies to reduce our environmental impact.

Data centres and cloud

In 2016, it was estimated that global consumption in data centres accounted for 292 TWh (*1) (1.15% of global generation). With the predicted end of Moore’s Law mixed with our growing appetite for cloud services and the increased energy demand from the Internet of Things, early models predict energy usage could increase four-fold by 2030 to 1287 TWh (*1) (3.64% of global generation).  Many of the public cloud hyper-scale providers are investing significantly in utility-grade renewable energy generation and other mechanisms to reduce their environmental impact.

  • Microsoft – Committed to transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2025, being carbon-negative by 2030 and reducing all historic emissions by 2050.
  • AWS – Committed to transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2025 and to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
  • Google – Committed to 100% renewable energy by 2030 and has effectively been carbon neutral since 2007 [through offsets]. No declaration yet on net-zero.

The opportunity

We recently developed a carbon calculation tooling that allows customers operating their own data centres to approximate the impact of their existing infrastructure relative to public cloud. For some customers, we calculate the potential impact of moving to public cloud as providing a reduction in operational carbon emissions of up to 91%! This shift of Scope 1 & 2 emissions to Scope 3 also allows us to treat cloud consumption as a flexible commodity. Moreover, as cloud providers invest to improve their environmental impact it means for comparable year-on-year consumption, carbon impact should also decrease. But there is more to be done than simply migrating data centres to the cloud. What about how we build and design solutions? The reality is that cloud migration is just the first step…

Measuring your impact

The primary challenge in overcoming any problem is first understanding it – what is the carbon impact of your choice of solution architecture? What about the tooling? Measuring carbon in this manner remains challenging although some early-stage activities are aiming to provide guidance on how we build green software and principles you might apply when designing solutions. While this matures, you can utilise carbon proxies to measure impact and create opportunities to optimise your solutions. Although it is still an emerging space on which carbon proxies you should measure, I’ve identified some broad carbon proxies below:

Cost: As cloud consumption is a commodity sitting under your Scope 3 emissions for bought goods and services, as your consumption increases or decreases so follows your carbon impact. Reducing wastage and being cost-efficient by utilising lean rightsizing, dynamic scaling and scale-to-zero event-driven architectures has a downstream benefit of reducing carbon impact.

Process efficiency: The more efficient your code [especially in event-driven architectures] the less wasted runtime resources and reliance upon newer hardware [with significant embodied carbon] to fill in the performance gaps.

Networking: Often a forgotten proxy, the greater the size and the geographic span of data transmission, the greater the energy use and thus carbon impact. Placing content closer to your end-users leveraging Content Delivery Networks and optimising your data payloads alongside ‘Time to First Byte’ are often simple mechanisms to improve environmental impact.

If you are interested in reading more this is a great article from Microsoft on this topic.

What next?

Whilst this is an emerging space and the temptation may be to wait until tooling and frameworks catch up, organisations continue migrating services to cloud platforms at pace and building net-new services. As technologists there is really nothing stopping us from making informed decisions on how we build, deliver, and operate these services utilising carbon proxies. Using this approach and benchmarking against carbon proxies will enable:

  • Savings on cloud operating costs through optimising consumption
  • Improved user experience through more responsive and performant services

Given the benefits, if this is not something you are already doing then there’s really no reason to delay. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to each other and to those that come after us on this planet to try to make a difference no matter how small. Please don’t delay and let's be part of helping secure tomorrow, by acting today.

About Kainos

At Kainos when we say "we do the difficult stuff" we mean it. When we started on our journey to become Net Zero we evaluated several methodologies and selected one that was most suited to a digital services focussed organisation. This is also true for the data platforms which underpin our measurements to consolidate and report on emissions. Refining this methodology, we are leveraging existing products, integrating them with off the shelf components and building bespoke solutions as required to enable our 2025 ambitions.

Get in touch if you want to know more about how we are making the move to Net Zero and find out if we can help you on your journey too. 

References

1 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306261921003019

 

Author:

Caoimhin Graham, Cloud Practice Technology Lead, Kainos

 

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Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Programme Manager, Technology and Innovation, techUK

Laura is techUK’s Programme Manager for Technology and Innovation.

She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.

Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.

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Zoe Brockbank

Programme Coordinator, Policy, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Zoe is a Programme Assistant, supporting techUK's work across Policy, Technology and Innovation.

The team makes the tech case to government and policymakers in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels and across the UK on the most pressing issues affecting this sector and supports the Technology and Innovation team in the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Zoe worked as a Business Development and Membership Coordinator at London First and prior to that Zoe worked in Partnerships at a number of Forex and CFD brokerage firms including Think Markets, ETX Capital and Central Markets.

Zoe has a degree (BA Hons) from the University of Westminster and in her spare time, Zoe enjoys travelling, painting, keeping fit and socialising with friends.

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