Posted: 21 Nov. 2022

Is the cloud the ultimate solution for green IT?

Moving your data and processes to the cloud is win-win, but it’s just the first step of many on a green journey…

Cloud storage saves costs for your company and the planet. But these cost savings and sustainability promises are only fully realised for users who control and monitor their cloud footprint. With great computing power comes great responsibility… 

We’re all fully aware of the digitally transformative power of the cloud. Lately, it’s also been touted as a pathway to becoming more sustainable and saving costs. Are these claims too good to be true? This is one of the rare cases where we can have the satisfaction of saying no.

If you’re running IT operations on your own on-premise servers, you’ve likely got extra servers in place as spare capacity should you need extra processing power. But if this equipment isn’t used often, it drains energy. Moving workloads to the cloud means resources can be scaled to accommodate your specific capacity needs, saving energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions as a result.

But before you go rushing to your nearest cloud provider, consider two steps you’ll need to take if you really want your environmental sustainability efforts to count (and save you money): workload hygiene and monitoring.  

Let’s start with hygiene. If you get rid of your data servers and move to the cloud, your cloud provider uses its own energy-consuming data centres, which can be energy efficient but still create pollution. So your goal here is to minimise what you actually keep on the cloud – which workloads can be archived or scaled back? 

The driver behind workload hygiene lies in the vast realms of cloud data-centre space being taken up by things using unneeded energy. This “cloud sprawl” comprises:1

  • Idle processes and tools lying dormant – Why not close down our development servers after business hours?  
  • Overprovisioned resources commanding more space than they need – Why not size the resources to the volume we need?  
  • Orphaned volumes and snapshots, which were once attached to workloads but are now just waste – Why not regularly clean up orphaned items and keep our hygiene in check? 

Clean up your workloads, and you clean up your carbon footprint by demanding less energy from cloud servers.  

The three biggest cloud providers – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Azure – offer tools to let you practise workload hygiene. You’ll be provided with a dashboard that shows how much energy, and money, you’re wasting with your cloud use. An example is GCP’s Carbon Footprint tool. Customers can measure and report carbon emissions from their cloud use and measure the carbon footprint from idle cloud instances.2 

Cleaning up your cloud space is really your own responsibility, and it’s well worth owning up to it, if not for the planet then for your budget. Your cloud provider profits from your messy cloud sprawl because you pay for it. To take full advantage of cloud benefits, go beyond clean-up to shoulder your second responsibility as a cloud user: actively monitoring and controlling your cloud real estate. The same tools that enable you to clean up the cloud can help you take stock of what’s using (and wasting) energy, and you may find that enormous cost savings lie in this administrative task: cloud sprawl costs cost customers billions of dollars each year.3 

Even better, why not move away from a traditional lift-and-shift cloud migration approach, and consider employing cloud-native architectures and technologies? The pay-off is a more flexible and responsive infrastructure, saving costs and resource energy usage. 

When it comes to picking a cloud provider, large companies offer an advantage in having servers spread far and wide. While they won’t hesitate to tell you about their efforts to offset energy use and purchase green certificates, do these methods actually make a difference? Leafcloud is a Netherlands-based company that offers carbon-negative cloud use by recycling its servers’ residual heat. Leafcloud co-founder David Kohnstamm told us: “What we’re seeing now is a lot of big data being used to make existing systems throughout our economy more sustainable. That’s great, but it’s a lot better when the cloud it is running on isn’t a major drain on scarce green energy sources.” Leafcloud servers are installed in apartment buildings, hotels and other structures that require year-round heating, and the servers generate heat that feeds into the local water and heating system. 4 Across a single Leaf Site, 1,691 tons of CO2 are saved each year – the equivalent of more than 200 homes’ annual energy use.  

Whichever provider you choose, your move to the cloud will benefit the environment, provided you have done the necessary housekeeping on your workloads. You’ll be part of a large customer base that benefits from economy-of-scale to manufacture and maintain energy-efficient equipment, eliminating the need to power (and cool) your own equipment. As a paying customer, you also enable your cloud provider to invest in more green technology. For most applications, moving to the cloud makes sense on so many levels. 

Deloitte supports organisations in taking steps5 to reduce their cloud waste. We can define and assess your cloud migration strategy, create transparency in any workloads you’re migrating, scale back capacity to curb overprovisioning, find workloads that can be run more cost efficiently, and more.  

1 Katy Stalcup, “Overprovisioning & always-on resources lead to $26.6 billion in public cloud waste expected in 2021”, Business 2 Community, January 21, 2021, https://www.business2community.com/cloud-computing/overprovisioning-always-on-resources-lead-to-26-6-billion-in-public-cloud-waste-expected-in-2021-02381033, last accessed July 12, 2022. 

2Jeff Kukowski, “Now and forever: The sustainability battle between the big three of cloud”, Spiceworks, February 10, 2022, https://www.spiceworks.com/tech/cloud/guest-article/the-sustainability-battle-between-clouds/

3Katy Stalcup, “Overprovisioning & always-on resources lead to $26.6 billion in public cloud waste expected in 2021”, Business 2 Community, January 21, 2021, https://www.business2community.com/cloud-computing/overprovisioning-always-on-resources-lead-to-26-6-billion-in-public-cloud-waste-expected-in-2021-02381033, last accessed July 12, 2022 

4Leafcloud, “Far more sustainable”, https://www.leaf.cloud/truly_green, last accessed July 12, 2022.

5Sarah Neenan and Stephen J Bigelow, “8 ways to reduce cloud costs”, TechTarget, May 5, 2022, https://www.techtarget.com/searchcloudcomputing/feature/5-ways-to-reduce-cloud-costs, last accessed July 12, 2022. 

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Eric Onderdelinden

Eric Onderdelinden

Director

I'm a very experienced enterprise architect and lead the Enterprise Architecture offering within the Netherlands. I'm specialized in Enterprise Architecture with a focus on the private sector. Besides in depth knowledge of Industrial processes and products I bring a wealth of experience in data and technology , including cloud services and desired agility, to the table. Recent assignments include pre-merger assessment and post merger integration. I work on project dealing with application portfolio rationalization, business case development and TCO. I publish on a regular basis in IT and business magazines. I support companies worldwide with the establishment and maturing of their EA practice. I'm a teacher in the master class enterprise architecture organized by the NAF. Besides that I'm a memebr of the board for Platfrom Digitale Wendbaarheid. Currently I'm working on a PhD concerning the value contribution of IS in M&A.