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Community Blog Going Green with Cloud: How to Achieve Your Sustainability Objectives

Going Green with Cloud: How to Achieve Your Sustainability Objectives

The cloud can help organizations achieve their environmental sustainability objectives and power growth.

The global transition from on premise data centers to the public cloud is gaining momentum as sustainability continues to move up corporate IT and executive leadership teams' list of priorities.

With public cloud spending poised to surge nearly 22% in 2022 and climb to 45% of all enterprise IT spending by 2026, the cloud is establishing itself as a key mechanism for businesses to achieve their sustainability goals while continuing to meet the challenges of digital disruption.

This is invaluable as pressure from employees, shareholders, partners, regulators and other stakeholders on businesses to deliver meaningful corporate environmental sustainability programs continues to escalate.

By moving data center infrastructure and resources to the cloud, organizational leaders can deliver measurable environmental sustainability benefits, including substantial reductions in energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. In some situations, a case can also be made for a reduced impact on biodiversity as traditional data centers are decommissioned.

The traditional data center is already on the way out, according to Gartner, which estimates in just three years, four in five enterprises will have shut theirs down. Furthermore, the analyst firm notes, three years ago, the percentage of the IT budget spent on data centers had fallen to just 17% – a clear reflection of its declining relevance to the modern IT function.

Power Consumption and Carbon Dioxide Emissions Reduced

Power consumption is a closely watched indicator of environmental sustainability and for data centers this is typically measured using PUE (Power Usage Efficiency). A PUE close to 1.0 is ideal, as this means most of the power consumed by the datacenter is consumed by the IT equipment, rather than by cooling and similar functions. Some traditional data centers recorded comparatively inefficient PUEs of 2.0 and above – unsustainable in an environment of growing pressure to improve green performance, whereas many hyperscale cloud providers have optimized power usage in their data centers to be closer to a PUE of 1.0.

The cloud can also help businesses reduce carbon dioxide emissions – a critical contribution to environmental sustainability. Based on internally gathered and third-party data, analyst organization IDC says continued adoption of cloud computing can prevent the emission of more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from 2021 through to 2024. “A key factor in reducing the CO2 emissions associated with cloud computing comes from the greater efficiency of aggregated compute resources,” IDC says. “The emissions reductions are driven by the aggregation of computation from discrete enterprise data centers to larger-scale centers that can more efficiently manage power capacity, optimize cooling, leverage the most power-efficient servers, and increase server utilization rates.”

Professional services firm Accenture also argues that the transition to the public cloud can deliver a 5.9% decrease in total IT emissions, or nearly 60 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.

Cloud providers are also exploring ways of reducing the consumption of water for cooling and power – a critical environmental factor as climate change increases water stress for communities in regions across the world. Initiatives include cooling data centers directly from man-made lakes, with the water being cooled before being returned to the environment to minimize the impact on local wildlife.

Selecting a Sustainable Cloud Provider

So how should businesses looking to enhance their environmental sustainability credentials select a cloud provider that can meet their needs? Accenture argues businesses should apply the following criteria when taking the journey from traditional datacenters to sustainable, cloud-first environments:

  • Review the carbon plans and performance of providers, including sustainability commitments, carbon emissions, investments in areas such as renewable energy generation, reusability and recyclability of datacenter hardware, and use of analytics to manage asset operations
  • Align with three levels of ambition: IaaS or 'lift and shift' migrations without major redesigns of applications and workflows; applying sustainable software engineering practices; and application optimization for the fabric of the cloud. Accenture argues IaaS migrations can reduce emissions by 84%-plus compared to conventional infrastructure, while designing applications for the cloud can push reductions as high as 98%
  • Identify how cloud-based platforms can help trace upstream and downstream value chains more rigorously and to recover value from unused materials and industrial waste streams

Eco-friendly Data Centers and Cooling Clusters

Among hyperscale cloud providers, Alibaba Cloud is distinguishing itself with the use of leading-edge sustainability technologies such as eco-friendly data centers – five of which are located in China and comprise the world’s only liquid cooling cluster deployed on such a large scale. Water-cooling technology at the East China Data Center alone ensures free cooling for 90% of its operating time, driving energy consumption down by more than 80% compared to mechanical cooling.

In addition, ‘soaking server’ cooling technology saves more than 70% of energy and reduces the average annual PUE to 1.09 – one of the the lowest in the world. In addition, compared to traditional data centers, the Alibaba Cloud Hangzhou data center saves 70 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

The business also proved its environmental sustainability credentials during the 2021 11.11 Shopping Festival, the world’s largest such event. By fully migrating all of Alibaba Group’s systems and operations onto the cloud ahead of the event, and by using 100% cloud-native technologies, Alibaba Cloud was able to reduce computing resources by 50% for every 10,000 transactions compared to the previous year.

“We are committed to offering ‘green computing power’ to meet the exponential demand from our customers for a low-carbon digital transition, and to drive the sustainable and inclusive development of our society,” says Li Cheng, Chief Technology Officer, Alibaba Group. “Alibaba Group’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival is an important opportunity to continue pushing our boundaries with green technology and smart innovation. We’re excited to serve more customers with these proven technologies across all industries and sectors.”

More broadly, Alibaba Group – including Alibaba Cloud – has set a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 and has elevated Environmental, Social and Governance to its list of core corporate responsibilities.

Working with the right cloud provider enables leaders and their organizations to integrate sustainability plans and objectives into broader transformation programs and satisfy the requirements of customers, regulators, governments, shareholders and partners.

For more information about Alibaba Cloud's sustainability initiatives, please review the following articles:

Alibaba Cloud Reveals Innovations for a Sustainable and Inclusive 11.11 Global Shopping Festival

Alibaba Cloud Innovations Power a Sustainable & Inclusive 11.11

Alibaba Cloud Sustainability Report 2021

Sustaining Innovation for the Cloud Market in APAC

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Iain Ferguson

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