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Reducing our Carbon Footprint

Simon Ratcliffe

Simon Ratcliffe
Principal Consultant, Advisory

IT functions are under increasing pressure to deliver results for their organisations’ ESG (Environmental Social Governance) agenda. Perhaps unfairly IT is frequently accused of being non-inclusive and not diverse, but it is on the E, the environmental, element of the ESG agenda that we can perhaps make an immediate and effective impact. Data centres, be they our own or through an external provider, are large scale contributors to the carbon footprint of many organisations. The question is, what can we as IT do to reduce that carbon footprint? 

There are many opinions ranging from academic papers to industry views on how much power data centres are consuming.  The trouble with all of this data is that it generally takes a macro view of data centres in general and it can be very difficult to extrapolate a meaningful view for a single organisation. There are, however, some fairly straightforward facts that we can identify and apply to the situation and allow us to identify whether we could improve our current position.  For example, it is accepted that larger, hyperscale data centres run more efficiently than smaller data centres. It is also accepted that many of the newer hyperscale data centres use innovative cooling methods that significantly reduce power consumption and there are modern data centres that run entirely or mainly on renewable energy. 

The problem for many of us is that our data centre infrastructure is not new and is not able to run as efficiently as the new data centres being built by the hyperscale providers. Of course, the other problem is that we don’t know the scale of the problem we are facing or, indeed, if we are facing a problem at all. What is the carbon footprint of the technology in your data centre? That is a question few organisations can answer with any degree of confidence. But if we could estimate our current carbon footprint and we could build a roadmap to reduce that footprint significantly over time we could be making a dramatic contribution to the future of our planet. 

Technology is only going to grow, and our reliance will grow with it, but if we are smart, that reliance does not have to be as environmentally destructive as it is now. If we own our own data centres then we can invest in sustainable power, innovative cooling techniques and newer and far more efficient hardware. To make this investment we do need to be in discussion with our business because the budget we will need for such transformational capital projects will be significant. If our data centres are co-location facilities, then we can bring pressure to bear on our providers to make the necessary changes to their infrastructure. This could be a time-consuming approach, but it is one we again need to embark upon as soon as we can. 

There is also the option to move as much as we can into the more efficient hyperscale data centres.  This has the advantage of being faster and does not come with any capital outlay issues as the hyperscalers have been effectively investing in greener data centres for quite some time. 

Rather as we would measure the Return on Investment for any project we were considering, then so should we measure the return on the environment for a change of this nature but how do we go about this? The problem is that many of us do not know properly what we have within our data centres in terms of hardware and software, let alone carbon generation. We need to take stock and assess the scale of the situation. 

Ensono have been auditing and assessing data centres for many years with an approach that is non-intrusive yet thorough and allows us to create a comprehensive and detailed map of the components and the connections and dependencies within your data centres. Our assessment approach also allows us to comprehensively evaluate all of the hardware within your data centre and to extrapolate an accurate assessment of the carbon footprint of the data centre. Using our experience and a database of information developed over many years, we can establish the current position of your organisation with regards to your carbon footprint. 

With the data gathered from the assessment, we can then make recommendations. We will know through our engagement with you your general technology preferences. Some organisations are very open to moving workloads to a hyperscale cloud or multiple hyperscale clouds and we can model this both for the technology and the carbon footprint. We can model what will work, the commercial impact and the environmental impact as part of the same exercise. We can also model the impact of a hardware refresh within the current environment and, as our assessments will provide operational efficiency data, we can often reduce the overall hardware footprint as well. 

Undertaking a carbon assessment of your technology operations will provide you and your board with the comfort that you are doing the most you reasonably can to safeguard the future of our planet and will help the board deliver against their ESG requirements. Too often technology is seen as a villain in the environmental world, but by understanding our current situation, we can move towards being heroes by making impactful changes that will affect the future. 

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