Cloud Computing, Data Centres, and The Environment

By Matthew Reeve on 3rd April, 2020.

The scalability, cost-effectiveness and accessibility of cloud computing is improving business functionality throughout industry sectors around the world, with an estimated 85% of enterprise workloads operating in the cloud in 2020. Recent research from Gartner estimates the global public cloud market alone will be worth $354 billion by 2022.

But as demand for this technology increases, as well as the need for the notoriously power-hungry supporting infrastructure – data centre energy usage accounts for around 2% of the global consumption of electricity – one has to question what impact this is all having on the environment?

In our digitally connected, app-driven world, every appliance and solution relies upon one fundamental resource; electricity. Accommodating for this enormous electrical demand puts strain on the planet’s natural resources.

In this blog post we will explore the environmental implications of the cloud industry and what industry leaders are doing to become more environmentally friendly.

Sharing Multi-Tenant Environments

The benefits of virtualisation have seen many industries move away from on-premise infrastructure and into the cloud. With less physical infrastructure and hardware running, energy usage is decreased. Utilising virtual resources allows infrastructure to be shared by multiple users, meaning it is not only a more cost-effective option for users with no upfront hardware costs, but also a more energy efficient one.

Shared use of larger multi-tenant data centres can be far more energy efficient than individually running smaller private facilities. In fact, research suggests for every metric ton of CO2 that a cloud vendor produces, they are saving twenty tons of CO2 being produced by their clients. At the current rate of cloud adoption, it is estimated relocating in-house infrastructure to the cloud could decrease overall data centre energy usage by 38% in 2020.

It’s also important to remember that these larger facilities can benefit from the massive economies of scale, as these companies can afford to pump a lot of money into acquiring state-of-the-art hardware, infrastructure and renewable energy solutions, making their data centres as efficient as possible. A great example of this is Yahoo, who run a hydro-electric data centre that is powered by Niagara Falls!

Optimising Resource Usage

Through the cloud, resources such as software, servers, storage and much more can be delivered simply and effectively over the internet. A pay-as-you-go, resource-based pricing model on a cloud solution means end users only use resources if and when they require them, instead of having these resources running constantly, which can be inefficient.

Delivering compute and storage resources via the cloud and billing them on usage provides a granular, cost-effective and flexible solution, with resource added or removed without a long-term commitment or investment, ensuring the cloud platform stays aligned with business requirements, budgets and goals.

Changing Working Habits

Cloud computing enables remote working; all you need is an internet connection. Accessibility, communication and collaboration are quick and simple. This means less commuting pollution and less offices to power and heat. A report by the Carbon Trust predicts homeworking could save up to 3 million tons of carbon emissions every year through reduced commuting alone.

The cloud’s digitalisation of workloads and documents also means using less paper. Going paperless – or thereabouts – in favour of digital files makes workloads easier to share, access and organise. But most importantly, reducing the amount of paper we use improves our carbon footprint. It’s not just about reducing deforestation, the paper industry is also the fifth largest consumer of energy in the world. To produce one ton of paper it takes an estimated 253 gallons of petrol!

Environmental Affects and Finding Greener Energy Sources

Predictably, the predominant environmental downside of the cloud industry is the knock-on effects data centres have on the environment from their massive consumption of power. New figures suggest data centres now contribute a whopping 3.2% of global carbon emissions – that’s more than the aviation industry! Staggeringly, it’s estimated data centres will account for 1/5 of the entire global power consumption by 2025.

However, industry leaders are working hard to find greener solutions. Apple’s entire operations, including their data centres, now run on 100% renewable energy generated through their solar projects. Google have also operated at 100% on purchased renewable energy for the past two years after a reported $3 billion investment to find green power sources. Other global tech companies use innovative, sustainable approaches to minimise the environmental impact of their facilities, such as using seawater as a coolant.

With mounting pressure for all industries around the world to go green, and cloud industry titans leading the way with commitment and investment into sustainable innovations and operations, it seems it’s only a matter of time until data centres and cloud infrastructure becomes more energy efficient and in some cases, carbon-neutral. As greener, renewable technologies and solutions become commonplace and widely implemented, the future looks to be significantly more environmentally friendly for the industry as a whole.

We hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

Image credit: yuRomanovich/

Matthew Reeve

Content Executive

Matthew is Secura's content specialist, producing gripping, emotionally complex, edge of your seat, cloud hosting articles and videos.

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