It’s always good to remind ourselves what the cloud is! Cloud computing involves using servers to store, process, and access data and applications over the Internet. This technology gradually replaced local computer storage or physical on-site servers. The cloud has become a very popular option for businesses and individuals due to its flexibility, cost-effectiveness (if closely monitored), and ease of use. But does the cloud have a positive impact on the environment?
A positive impact, but…
At first glance, we won’t lie to you, it’s true! The cloud has environmental advantages compared to using local servers or individual workstations, that’s for sure. By using a highly optimized and environmentally friendly cloud (which is not always easy to determine), you can reduce your energy consumption and carbon footprint. Considering that energy efficiency is a significant part of the Cloud Service Providers’ (CSP) economic model, it’s evident that they will always be more energy-efficient than a data center or an on-premises server room hosted by a non-specialized company.
Furthermore, the cloud enables companies to reduce their consumption of computer hardware through three well-known effects:
- Centralization of IT resources
- Resource pooling among numerous users, often compared to a “carpool for data”
- Consumption of “on-demand” services, a key selling point for CSPs, which we will revisit in the second part
In theory, all of this helps reduce the amount of produced hardware and the waste associated with end-of-life disposal.
The cloud also offers storage and data processing flexibility that can be used to implement real-time computing solutions and data analytics, contributing to more efficient resource utilization and better decision-making.
Yes, there’s always a “but”!
The cloud is not a magic solution. It has a significant impact on global electricity consumption. By 2025, the cloud could consume 20% of the world’s electricity and emit 5% of CO2, according to a recent Swedish study.
Why does the cloud pollute?
The increasing number of data centers and their associated infrastructure have a significant environmental impact. According to a study conducted by Greenpeace in 2021, data centers consume about 2% of the world’s electricity, and this consumption is expected to double by 2030. Data center electricity consumption has already increased by 6% between 2010 and 2018, reaching nearly 2,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year (IEA). If we consider the consumption of an internet router of around 10 watts and use this estimate, 2,000 TWh of energy would allow an internet router to function for approximately 200 billion hours, which is approximately 22.8 million years.
However, it is essential to remember that these increases are also due to our constantly evolving data consumption. It’s a mechanical phenomenon, and not everything can be attributed solely to the cloud.
Overconsumption has never been easier
We mentioned “on-demand” consumption, which is convenient for IT or data teams in a company. With a single click, they can set up a Virtual Machine capable of processing, analyzing, or storing data. This functionality leads to a paradox (known as Jevons’ paradox) or more commonly known as the rebound effect. Technological improvement leads to overconsumption of the service, resulting in a larger environmental impact than the initial situation. To learn more, we recommend reading the excellent article by Bon Pote on this subject!
We also mentioned the energy efficiency of Cloud Service Providers, who excel in this area. However, it’s important to consider this indicator (PUE: Power Usage Effectiveness) and ensure that the calculation methodology is transparent and reliable.
The hosting location, a key factor
Did you know that the location of your cloud infrastructure can affect its environmental footprint? For example, a cloud hosted in Germany can be approximately six times more polluting (source: Sopht) than one hosted in France, mainly due to Germany’s carbon-intensive energy mix.
A Thoughtful Decision: Considering the Cloud
It’s crucial to understand that the environmental impact of the cloud depends on how it’s utilized, how data centers are managed, and where they are located. If your usage isn’t well-suited for the cloud or if your cloud data centers are energy-intensive or located in a country with a high carbon footprint, the overall impact could be more negative than positive.
In a Nutshell: The Cloud’s Potential Positive Impact
When used in an environmentally responsible manner, the cloud can indeed have a positive impact on the environment. It can significantly reduce energy consumption and the need for hardware. However, it’s important to remember that not all scenarios are suitable for cloud migration, and the decision should be carefully evaluated rather than automatic.
At Sopht, we created a GreenOps solution that is the perfect way to help the environment, update your digital infrastructure and improve your finances all at once. Because going green isn’t just about being environmentally conscious; it’s about saving money, too. We offer multi-cloud monitoring to rationalize your infrastructure and related costs by measuring and comparing your different Cloud Providers environmental efficiency. Our IT asset management services allow you to consolidate, organize and pilot all data related to your IT inventory (laptops, screens, smartphones, routers…) to better amortize your carbon and financial footprint. This helps us understand how your users are interacting with their devices so that you can better manage your IT assets and plan for decarbonization.
Contact us for a demo of our new end-to-end platform.