cloud storage without the climate cost

With over half of all corporate data held in the cloud as of 2022, demand for cloud storage has never been higher. This has triggered extreme energy consumption throughout the data centre industry, leading to hefty greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Worryingly, the European Commission now estimates that by 2030, EU data centre energy use will increase from 2.7% to 3.2% of the Union’s total demand. This would put the industry’s emissions almost on par with pollution from the EU’s international aviation.

Despite this, it must be remembered that cloud storage is still far more sustainable than the alternatives.

Why should we consider cloud storage to be sustainable?

It’s important to put the energy used by cloud storage into context and consider the savings it can make elsewhere. Thanks to file storage and sharing services, teams can collaborate and work wherever they are, removing the need for large offices and everyday commuting.

As a result, businesses can downsize their workspaces as well as reduce the environmental impact caused by employees travelling. In fact, it’s estimated that working from home four days a week can reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions by around 10%.

In addition, cloud storage reduces reliance on physical, on-premises servers. For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), having on-site servers or their own data centres can be expensive, whilst running and cooling the equipment requires a lot of energy, which means more CO2 emissions.

Cloud servers, on the other hand, offer a more efficient alternative. Unlike on-premises servers that might only be used to a fraction of their capacity, cloud servers in data centres can be used much more effectively. They often operate at much higher capacities, thanks to virtualisation technology that allows a single physical server to act as multiple virtual ones.

Each virtual server can be used by different businesses, meaning fewer physical units are needed overall. This means less energy is required to power and cool, leading to a reduction in overall emissions.

Furthermore, on-premises servers often have higher storage and computing capacity than needed just to handle occasional spikes in demand, which is an inefficient use of resources. Cloud data centres, by contrast, pool large amounts of equipment to manage these spikes more efficiently.

In 2022, the average power usage effectiveness of data centres improved. This indicates that cloud providers are using energy more efficiently and helping companies reduce their carbon footprint with cloud storage.

A sustainable transition: three steps to create green cloud storage

Importantly, there are ways to further improve the sustainability of services like cloud storage, which could translate to energy savings of 30-50% through greening strategies. So, how can ordinary cloud storage be turned into green cloud storage? We believe there are three fundamental steps.

Firstly, businesses should carefully consider location. This means choosing a cloud storage provider that’s close to a power facility. This is because distance matters. If electricity travels a long way between generation and use, a proportion is lost. In addition, data centres located in cooler climates or underwater environments can cut down on the energy required for cooling.

Next, businesses should quiz green providers about what they’re doing to reduce their environmental impact. For example, powering their operations with wind, solar or biofuels minimises reliance on fossil fuels and so lowering GHG emissions. Some facilities will house large battery banks to store renewable energy and ensure a continuous, eco-friendly power supply.

Last but certainly not least, technology offers powerful ways to enhance the energy efficiency of cloud storage. Some providers have been investing in algorithms, software and hardware designed to optimise energy use. For example, introducing frequency scaling or AI and machine learning algorithms can significantly improve how data centres manage power consumption and cooling.

For instance, Google’s use of its DeepMind AI has reduced its data centre cooling bill by 40% – a prime example of how intelligent systems can work towards greater sustainability.

At a time when the world is warming up at an accelerating rate, selecting a cloud storage provider that demonstrates a clear commitment to sustainability can have a significant impact. In fact, major cloud providers like Google, Microsoft and Amazon have already taken steps to make their cloud services greener, such as by pledging to move to 100 per cent renewable sources of energy. 

Cloud storage without the climate cost

The cloud’s impact on businesses is undeniable, but our digital growth risks an unsustainable future with serious environmental consequences. However, businesses shouldn’t have to choose between innovation and the planet.

The answer lies in green cloud storage. By embracing providers powered by renewable energy, efficient data centres, and innovative technologies, businesses can reap the cloud’s benefits without triggering a devastating energy tax.

The time to act is now. Businesses have a responsibility to choose green cloud storage and be part of the solution, not the problem. By making the switch today, we can ensure the cloud remains a convenient sanctuary, not a climate change culprit.

Check out the upcoming Cloud Transformation Conference, a free virtual event for business and technology leaders to explore the evolving landscape of cloud transformation. Book your free virtual ticket to deep dive into the practicalities and opportunities surrounding cloud adoption. Learn more here.

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