Laith Bahoshy, Senior Director of Cloud Solution Architecture EMEA, VMware
The new Breakthrough Agenda, signed by 40 world leaders at COP26, aims to “turbocharge” the development and deployment of clean technologies by 2030. This commitment is being hailed as a crucial milestone in achieving its target of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C. I would argue that technology – and the innovation it enables – is a huge player in achieving the commitments set at COP26, both in boardrooms across the world and also in our homes, as society looks to protect our planet.
Technological innovation today has become synonymous with data, and with the increasing volume being generated every day – governed and enabled by the continued growth of cloud – it is even more critical that we work to decarbonize the digital infrastructure that underpins so much of today’s world. Cloud is at the heart of that infrastructure, we need to focus our efforts on it. Here’s how and why.
Focus on workloads
We estimate that data centers account for around one percent of the world’s electricity consumption. While we have made impressive efficiency gains from virtualization over the years, which VMware pioneered, a study published in the journal Science warns that there is no guarantee that this efficiency drive will continue with the emergence of new, data-hungry technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, 5G and virtual reality..
With climate scientists stating that we need to halve global carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, IT, then, is a critical component in our pursuit of carbon neutrality. Our first priority as an industry must be to minimize both the energy and carbon associated with running workloads.
One way to achieve this is by changing how we run and manage data centers. Given their electricity consumption, even tiny adjustments can make a big difference. Take one Google engineer – as outlined in the book ‘I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 – who redesigned the power supplies for the servers in its data centers; reducing the power consumption by just one watt saved millions.
Another way is reviewing the workloads themselves. They will always need energy, so businesses must consider minimizing on-premises and public cloud infrastructure requirements to reduce their consumption. Managing when and where workloads are run, and measuring the carbon attributed to each individual workload, will encourage carbon reduction. Finally, they need to incorporate corresponding energy and carbon metrics into management systems, side-by-side with performance and availability, to encourage more transparent and efficient ways of operating.
Enacting these changes is a complex ask, particularly for teams with limited knowledge of the carbon footprint of their IT infrastructure. That’s why VMware offers a range of Multi-Cloud solutions which empower customers to quickly and seamlessly rehost applications from on-premises to any public cloud and back again, via a consistent Cloud Operating Model which drives efficiency, governance, security and performance.
Momentum is also growing around renewable energy-powered data centers, with many cloud providers considering how and what electricity powers their data centers, rather than wait for utility companies to convert fossil fuel use to renewable energy. To support these companies and help accelerate the transition to zero-carbon clouds, we have launched the Zero Carbon Committed initiative. By connecting our customers with VMware cloud providers who are committed to zero-carbon clouds by 2030, we’re helping customers reach their sustainability and decarbonization goals.
While the benefits of cloud are clear when it comes to decarbonization of infrastructure, it’s important to note that not all roads should lead to cloud. On its own it will not achieve efficiencies, and a poor cloud strategy could increase usage. For example, an organization using three or more clouds may choose to have a separate team for each cloud, consuming the resources to match. The alternative option – using the solutions that I discussed above – is to have one team with the same skill sets, using consistent operations and management across multiple cloud environments, which is significantly more efficient. It’s just one component of being ‘cloud-smart’ instead of ‘cloud-first’, and regularly reviewing and revisiting cloud strategies to assess their environmental impact.
‘Cloud-smart’ also means giving organizations the means to choose the best possible mixture of platforms and environments for their specific needs. This includes being able to support greater execution of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning models to not only drive greater efficiency in production, but could also – when paired with the IoT enable data-driven insights that drive eco-friendly decision making in a range of industries, from agriculture to manufacturing.
This point might seem counter-intuitive, given the rise of AI and ML in general is contributing significantly to rising ‘compute’ demands all over the world, thereby increasing carbon footprint. But AI itself can play a critical role in enabling corporate sustainability, not only in the way it is designed and deployed, but also in what it is being used for. There are many use cases in which it can actually be used to reduce carbon footprint. A recent BCG study for example details how companies can use AI to monitor their current emissions, predict future levels, and leverage learnings and insights to actively reduce them.
Ultimately, by improving the transparency of data, multi-cloud can enforce ‘carbon accountability’, thanks to its ability to reveal where and how energy is being used and how to reduce it.
Being able to demonstrate a strong ESG programme, supported by a cloud strategy that delivers greater efficiencies isn’t just about the bottom line. It’s also crucial to attracting and retaining skilled talent. Today’s workers want to work for companies that can show commitment to more sustainable, equitable and diverse practices. Having a sustainable cloud strategy, that can readily show the efficiencies it’s enabled such as reduced power consumption and carbon footprint, is increasingly a must-have when recruiting.
Make sustainability intrinsic
At VMware, we have published our 2030 Agenda – a commitment to reach 30 goals by 2030 to create a more equitable, sustainable and resilient world. We are not alone in these commitments – companies across the world are putting in place their own ESG goals and looking at what changes they can make to help achieve them. One of the components of our 2030 Agenda is “Intrinsic Sustainability” – making sustainability intrinsic to every product we make, every interaction we have and every customer project we work on. That starts with decarbonizing infrastructure.
Ultimately cloud is at the heart of every business today. Make cloud platforms energy-efficient, and we will be well on our way to making businesses more environmentally efficient and effective, while maintaining our pace of innovation.
If you’re keen to hear more about how cloud can enable your sustainability initiatives, then tune into my colleague Hervé Renault’s conversation with Atos’ Nourdine Bihmane in his latest Connected in the Clouds podcast. Enjoy your listening!