The IEA reports that “global data centre electricity use in 2020 was 200-250 TWh, or around 1% of global final electricity demand” (this excludes energy used for cryptocurrency mining). Based on some estimates, “saving and storing 100 gigabytes of data in the cloud per year would result in a carbon footprint of about 0.2 tons of CO2, based on the usual U.S. electric mix”. That’s equivalent to 1,740 passenger kilometers on a Boeing 737-400! (est. 115 g per passenger kilometer)

For every piece of data shared between data center and end user, as many as five pieces of data are exchanged between and among data centers and servers. Energy is consumed in data storage, data transfer, and specialized cooling equipment to keep the servers from overheating.

Cloud can be a better alternative, when you’re considering where to host your public-facing application. It offers significant benefits in terms of efficiency and usability. Let us look at the broader idea of sustainable cloud adoption and how cloud service providers like AWS help reduce the carbon footprint.

The Need for Sustainable Cloud Adoption

The value of the global cloud computing market is estimated to be $945 million by 2025. Gartner says that cloud computing will be “pervasive” by the same milestone year. At the same time, the World Meteorological Organization reports that “the world is poised to break a crucial heat barrier by 2025”.

Sustainability and ecological conservation are needed to sustain life on earth, and that includes sustainability in cloud computing. Given the ubiquity of cloud computing, and the present high carbon consumption by the sector, sustainability in cloud adoption is a key motivator for all major cloud services providers, and should drive investment decisions by IT teams around the world as well.

Making Strides in Cloud Sustainability

Knowing their significant electricity requirements, hyperscale data centre operators such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), GCP and Azure have set and are making great efforts to meet sustainability goals. They are on track to using 100% renewable energy for their operations.

AWS considers sustainability in the cloud a major goal, focusing primarily on creating “energy reduction and efficiency across all components of a workload”. AWS provides a variety of tools using which the cloud user can make their workloads more efficient.

The user can select the most efficient programming language, adopting modern algorithms, using efficient data storage and infrastructure, and using less high-powered hardware, to minimize the impact of each cloud workload deployed.

You can also use the AWS Cloud to run workloads specifically designed to support broader sustainability goals. “For example, you can use a machine learning service like Amazon Monitron to detect abnormal behavior in industrial machinery. Using this detection data, you can conduct preventive maintenance to reduce the risk of environmental incidents caused by unexpected equipment failures and ensure that the machinery continues to operate at peak efficiency.”

Tools and Knowledge Provided by AWS Services

The Carbon Reduction Opportunity of Moving to Amazon Web Services reports that AWS’ “infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy-efficient than the median US enterprise data center, and moving to AWS can lower your workload’s carbon footprint by 88% for the same task”. At the same time, sustainability is a shared responsibility, as AWS takes charge of sustainability of the cloud (networking, cooling, etc) and the client is responsible for sustainability in the cloud (workload optimization, etc).

AWS provides a set of tools to help optimize the energy consumption of your workloads, as below.

Optimizing the Compute Layer

  • Amazon Cloud Watch for easy monitoring and optimization across tools [Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) and Amazon EMR]
  • AWS Cost & Usage Report to understand current resource usage and keep track
  • AWS CDK template to create, store, query, and visualize AWS Cost & Usage Report
  • AWS Cost Explorer and AWS Graviton2 to right-size resource usage
  • Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling to auto-scale workloads based on demand, optimizing resource usage
  • Amazon EC2 Spot Instances to utilize unused EC2 capacity and reduce idle capacity

Reducing Data Storage Requirements

  • Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) Lifecycle configuration to automatically transfer objects to different storage classes based on pre-defined rules and store data efficiently
  • Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS) Infrequent Access, Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) Cold HDD volumes, and Amazon S3 Glacier for archiving data or storing slow-changing data
  • Amazon S3 Intelligent-Tiering to automatically move objects between tiers in cases of unknown or changing access patterns
  • Amazon Data Lifecycle Manager to reduce the storage footprint of stale resources by retaining and deleting EBS snapshots and AMIs automatically
  • Auto deduplication on Amazon FSx for Windows File Server for optimal data storage
  • FindMatches Transform by AWS Lake Formation to deduplicate Amazon S3 data

Improving Data Transfer Efficiency

  • AWS region selection to choose the region closest to the majority of your users (the further data needs to travel through the global network, the more energy is consumed)
  • Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and Amazon Aurora to set up cross-region read replicas in case users are spread across multiple regions
  • Amazon DynamoDB global tables to alleviate network load and speed up performance
  • Amazon CloudFront to automatically compress objects and speed up downloads

Using these tools and various knowledge resources provided by AWS, you can optimize your cloud workloads to significantly reduce the resources consumed by the system. Since AWS provides detailed metrics on each parameter, it is possible to define KPIs, test, validate, and regularly measure improvement on each of the above parameters.

Carbon emission footprint assessment

As of March 2022, customers can now directly calculate the environmental impact of their AWS workloads with a new customer carbon footprint tool. It offers easy-to-understand data visualizations of historical carbon emission trends for the workload, as well as approximate estimated emission savings through using AWS instead of an on-premises data center.

The tool also provides forecasted emissions based on current usage. Since Amazon is on track to powering 100% of its operations with renewable energy by 2025, and net-zero carbon by 2040, these forecasts take the reduction in AWS emissions into account. The tool can be easily viewed and used by existing AWS customers and is available from day one to support new customers in their journey towards sustainability.

As the tool breaks down carbon emissions by geographical location and AWS service, you can study the data and identify areas for potential improvement. For example, if Amazon S3 has a high carbon footprint, you can take steps to optimize data storage.

In today’s rapidly heating environment, going green with the cloud is a necessity. Fortunately, with the right tools and expertise, it’s possible to track and reduce your carbon emissions over time! Work with AWS, a cloud service provider with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability, and Ziffity, to make it work for you.

Frequently asked questions

This all sounds very complicated. Should I even move to the cloud?

Today, the cloud is so universal – and so efficient in terms of operations – that in most cases, the cloud is the most appropriate choice! Research shows that every major application moved by a large enterprise to the cloud saves an average of 30,000 metric tons of CO2 within a five-year period. That’s in addition to the benefits of easy collaboration and data sharing by using the cloud.

Another benefit is that, by using cloud workloads instead of on-prem computing, you allow employees to work from home, saving the emissions generated by daily work commutes.

By taking some of the steps mentioned in this article and others, and by leveraging various AWS tools, going green with the cloud is very much possible.

Where can I learn more about going sustainable with AWS?

Check out a recent whitepaper here.

How do I get started with my green cloud journey?

The first step is to identify a trusted AWS cloud partner. Do check out Ziffity’s portfolio and credentials to evaluate if we would be a good fit for your cloud transformation.