07 Dec 2021

NetApp: The Carbon Footprint For Data Is How Much?

Something that I hear more and more being discussed is ‘sustainability’ and ‘carbon footprint’.  I have worked with data for a long time, so I am used to conversations about storage efficiencies etc., but I have never really sat back and thought about the impact on the environment that data has.   

Typically, when people start talking about carbon footprints, their conversations quickly go to travel, manufacturing or cows!  It’s only more recently after chatting with a few colleagues and listening to some interesting initiatives some of the banks are looking at, that I have become more interested to understand how much of an impact data has – and that’s when I had the reaction of ‘the carbon footprint for data is how much?’! 

The big difference between data and the other main topics of conversation is that it is much harder to physically appreciate data.  You can travel in cars and airplanes, use the output of manufacturing and a lot of us are still meat-eaters, but data doesn’t have physical mass.  However, it still has to exist somewhere on infrastructure – whether that is your own data-centre, a co-location or a Cloud Service Provider.  So, what’s the problem here? 

Currently, 68% of data that is created is then never used or touched again.  To store that amount of unused data equates to a bigger carbon footprint per year than the entire airline industry combined!   

This got me thinking from different angles, not just a green perspective.  Are companies storing their data efficiently?  Do companies know what data they have?  Everyone is looking for a competitive edge – how many missed opportunities are there from believing that the information isn’t available? 

With all this data available but having such a large carbon footprint, what should be the top-of-mind questions to consider? 

Do you know what data you have?   

If you don’t truly know what data you have, who owns it, where is it – and should it be – kept, how can you possibly start to truly know what value you can gain from it or if you are impacting from a sustainability perspective on the best possible way. 

Are you storing it efficiently? 

I don’t just mean storage efficiencies such as deduplication and compression but are you using older, less efficient technology.  Where is it being stored?  The carbon emissions needed to build your datacentre are already there – is it better to keep using that or is the cloud a more environmentally sustainable solution? 

Have you got, and do you stick to, defined data management policies? 

In an industry that is so heavily regulated, it can be easy to just keep everything.  Do you really need to do that?  Have you set up (sticking to) retention policies? 

What insights can you gain from unused data? 

If you do need to keep it, can you gain better insights to help your business or your customers? 

 When it comes to green IT, just tackling unused data could make such a difference! 

This article was written by Steven Rackham, Senior Solutions Engineering Manager, EMEA Global at NetApp.

Steve Rackham leads the technical pre-sales team for Strategic Enterprise FSI accounts across EMEA. Steve began his career in technology working for Sequent Computers, spending time at Intel and StorageTek.  He joined NetApp in 2006 taking a role in pre-sales. For the past 13 years he has been involved with FSI customers working on accounts across the FSI vertical including heading up a Global pre-sales team for a large, multi-national bank before moving to his current leadership role. He has been enhancing relationships with customers and strategic partners alike, helping them adopt their own Data Fabric utilizing NetApp’s Data Management solutions.  Steve has also been exploring how the rapid advances in the use of AI is impacting Financial Services.


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