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Dirty Cloud – navigating the hidden costs of cloud computing

In this article, we look at the darker side of cloud as we discuss the negative environmental impact of data centres.

In today’s hyper-connected digital landscape, businesses rely heavily on cloud computing to streamline operations, enhance scalability, and drive innovation. However, the seemingly limitless potential of the cloud comes at a steep price – one that goes far beyond financial considerations.

Welcome to the world of data centres, the not-so-hidden environmental offenders of the corporate world.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the alarming environmental consequences of public cloud data centres and how they impact businesses’ Scope 3 (those caused by a related party) emissions. We’ll also look at the often-overlooked fact that reducing your carbon footprint in the cloud not only benefits the planet but also your pocket!

Let’s shed light on the “Dirty Cloud”.

The environmental toll of Data Centres

Data Centres are the unsung heroes behind the scenes, powering the public cloud and the digital infrastructure that fuels modern businesses. These massive facilities house countless servers, tirelessly working around the clock to process and store data. However, their insatiable appetite for energy is causing significant harm to the environment.

Carbon Footprint: Data centres are notorious energy guzzlers, and whilst efforts are being made to use renewables a substantial portion of this energy is still generated from fossil fuels. Consequently, data centres have emerged as major contributors to carbon emissions. Some estimates even suggest that their emissions rival those of the aviation industry.

Water Usage: The cooling systems within data centres require substantial volumes of water to dissipate the heat generated by the servers. In regions already facing water scarcity, this poses a critical environmental challenge. A single large data centre can use the same amount of daily water as a town of 10,000 inhabitants. 

Public cloud’s hidden environmental costs

Public cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), offer businesses the convenience of scalable computing resources. However, the sprawling infrastructure supporting these services carries the same profound environmental implications.

Data Center Proliferation: Public cloud providers maintain extensive global networks of data centres to ensure low-latency access for their business clients. The construction and operation of these facilities often entail deforestation and habitat disruption.

Energy Usage: Running colossal data centres to sustain public cloud services demands an astronomical amount of energy. Some data centres consume energy on a scale comparable to small towns, further straining energy resources.

Carbon Intensity: Public cloud services’ carbon footprint varies depending on the region, but many providers rely heavily on fossil fuels. This results in a high carbon intensity for the services they offer, directly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

The cost of carbon in business cloud computing

Reducing the carbon footprint associated with cloud computing isn’t just an eco-conscious choice; it’s a strategic business decision that can lead to substantial cost savings. Here’s why:

Cost reduction: Businesses pay for public cloud services based on resource consumption. By optimising resource utilisation, implementing energy-efficient practices, and adopting cloud cost management strategies, you can significantly reduce your cloud expenditures.

Incentives: Some cloud providers incentivise environmentally friendly practices, such as adopting renewable energy sources and optimising resource utilisation. Leveraging these programmes can result in substantial cost savings.

Sustainability as a competitive edge: As environmental concerns take centre stage, customers, investors, and stakeholders increasingly value organisations that prioritise sustainability. Demonstrating a commitment to reducing your carbon footprint can enhance your brand’s reputation and market competitiveness.

Compliance and regulation: Environmental regulations and industry standards are evolving to address the carbon impact of businesses. By proactively reducing your carbon emissions, you can ensure compliance with emerging environmental standards and avoid potential penalties.

Embracing sustainable cloud practices

There are plenty of ways businesses can be more sustainable, minimising their environmental impact and maximising their cost-saving potential:

Resource optimisation: businesses can regularly assess and identify any underutilised cloud resources and rightsize them to meet actual business needs. This minimises waste and reduces costs.

Cloud cost management: IThere are plenty of cloud cost management tools and practices which can monitor, analyse, and optimise cloud spend continuously.

Carbon offsetting: Some businesses choose to invest in carbon offset programmes to compensate for their carbon emissions. While not a direct cost-saving measure, it demonstrates a commitment to sustainability.

Vendor selection: Evaluate cloud providers based on their commitment to sustainability and their efforts to reduce their own carbon footprint.

The “Dirty Cloud” is a reality that businesses cannot afford to ignore. Data centres, especially those supporting public cloud services, cast a long shadow over the environment, contributing significantly to carbon emissions and straining water resources. The good news for businesses is that by proactively minimising their carbon footprint, they can also benefit their bottom line by making substantial cost savings.

It’s time for businesses to lead the charge in making the cloud cleaner and greener, setting an example for a more sustainable digital future.

Lead the change

Making changes for a more sustainable future does not need to be hard and this is where using tools and platforms such as Turn It Off can really help. Turn it Off is an AI platform that helps businesses reduce cloud waste by intelligently turning off applications, environments and resources when they are not in use. 

The current approach to resource usage management is generally focussed around looking at cloud estates as a whole (across the business) rather than on an individual application or resource basis. 

Turn It Off uses real-time application usage data and advanced scheduling tools to allow you to turn off non-production resources when they are not being used, in order to save on Carbon and CO2e. You will also be able to see exactly how much money and carbon has been saved in the process.

If you want to learn more about how you can easily reduce your cloud carbon emissions whilst savings costs, read more here

We are currently running our beta programme so if you want to be one of the first to try some of our cool new features for free sign up here.