The partnership path to net zero carbon in the cloud

Digital transformation and the move to cloud offer organisations significant opportunity to decarbonise by leveraging net zero carbon IT services and data centre operations.

shutterstock 745842283 09.10.20 the partnership path to net zero carbon in the cloud
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This is a contributed article by Kulveer Ranger, Global Head of Strategy & Communications FS&I and SVP UK&I, Atos.

With the scientific consensus well established on the urgency of tackling climate change, and the drive towards a green economy increasingly cemented at the top of political and corporate agendas, a critical realisation is beginning to crystallise for public and private organisations. While specific local environmental initiatives such as recycling programmes have an important part to play, the levels of decarbonisation required to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5˚C above preindustrial levels – the central goal set by the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change – cannot be met without much bolder action. Luckily for every modern enterprise, a powerful mechanism to boost decarbonisation efforts lies within arms’ reach – inside their own cloud strategies.

When developing their cloud strategies, organisations are often encouraged to take into account factors such as the volume and nature of the data they need to store and access, the specific applications they will be hosting, and their choice of cloud infrastructure – underpinned by security and cost considerations. What many organisations are now realising is that their cloud strategies remain incomplete without careful scrutiny and understanding of their associated carbon emissions.

Green partnerships

Cloud partners can help unlock substantial sustainability gains for their customers by providing centralised energy efficient data centres that allow the sharing of physical infrastructure across multiple thousands of customers, while keeping applications and data securely protected. When these benefits are combined with automation and cloud-native features such as autoscaling, applications only use computing resources on demand rather than consuming them unnecessarily 24x7 in customer data centres.

The critical insight for organisations, however, is that the performance of their cloud partners could make or break their own sustainability strategies. The best cloud partners will ensure sustainability feeds deep into their own supply chains, assessing strategic suppliers for their corporate social responsibility performance and examining how procurement processes can embed sustainability at every stage.

Setting global standards

Having robust sustainability credentials and a lower carbon footprint are now genuine competitive advantages for businesses, so there is a strong imperative to act quickly. Global standards like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) act as a catalyst, galvanising all global businesses to focus on this crucial issue and driving the rapid uptake of sustainable data practices in the technology sector.

According to research released earlier this year by Northwestern University, the number of "compute instances" grew by 6.5 times between 2010 and 2018 - yet during that period total global data centre energy consumption grew by only 6 per cent. For such a dramatic increase in data volumes to have only a small impact on carbon emissions clearly demonstrates that effective, decarbonised cloud strategies are bearing fruit.

The green standard: a sustainable digital society

We now live in a digital society. Gone are the days of the internet as an ethereal and remote domain, a place frequented by “netizens” seeking to “surf” the “information super highway”; we are now immersed in a world of ubiquitous connectivity, enabled by cloud services and the continuous availability of digital infrastructure.

The citizens of our digital society are ever more attuned to the value of their own data. A more nuanced understanding of the cloud is quickly becoming the norm, and organisations – public and private – whose efforts fall short of achieving truly sustainable data management practices will pay with potentially irreversible loss of trust.

Looking even further into the future, organisations must recognise that digital transformation is only set to accelerate. Organisations will increasingly adopt data-fuelled services including real-time data orchestration, open platforms and intelligent automation, leveraging sustainable practices to drive client satisfaction and value creation. The path towards sustainable growth, however, will remain the same – solidly built on the credentials of trusted partners.

Kulveer Ranger is Global Head Strategy & Communications FS&I and Senior Vice President, Strategy & Communications for Atos UK&I and is a member of the Atos UK&I Executive Board. He spent a decade in management consultancy before leading the Mayor of London’s Transport, Environment and Digital Strategy Policy divisions between 2008-12 and was on the board of Transport for London. Ranger has also been a member of a variety of boards including London 2012 Olympic Transport and Bristol 2015. He has an extensive knowledge of major infrastructure and technology programme delivery between the public and private sector.