Developing a Strategic Approach to IT Sustainability

By David Walker, Field CTO, Europe, at Yugabyte.

The UN climate summit (COP28) in Dubai, in December 2023, recognised that if humanity is to limit temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, there is a need for deep, rapid, and sustained fossil fuel reductions. 

From a business perspective, this means that IT executives need to prepare (more than ever) for an imminent wave of inquiries related to their organisation's Net Zero commitment. This is a critical business and IT challenge that demands a proactive stance. IT professionals need more than a quick answer, they also need to show a comprehensive strategy, supported by tangible metrics showcasing sustainability progress.

Why Datacentres are a HOT Topic

The current datacentre scrutiny poses a challenge that extends beyond the immediate horizon—one intertwined with the overarching goal of achieving a Net Zero commitment. 

This issue demands a measurable strategy and a compelling response to the question: "What is IT doing to propel the organisation towards Net Zero?" 

The problem is that datacentres—including the ones your Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) partners are delivering your multi-cloud on—don’t have a great ‘Green’ reputation. Despite their indispensable role in modern IT infrastructure, they have a lacklustre profile when it comes to environmental credibility. 

Even before the current era of environmental awareness, datacentres faced excess heat and burgeoning power cost challenges. To optimise for low latency, the IT industry strategically situated data facilities—referred to as 'data hotels' and 'colocation services'—in proximity to urban centres, where corporations often cluster. While repurposing brownfield sites for this purpose is commendable, it puts considerable strain on power networks. This leads to a situation where any environmental benefits are offset by increased power consumption.

These are not new challenges. Managing the excess heat generated by the myriad of IT devices housed within datacentres is an ongoing struggle. Innovative solutions like leveraging ambient air and local water for non-carbon-generating free cooling, as well as the implementation of hot and cold aisle configurations, have been employed. Yet, regardless of these measures, the reality is that datacentres demand electricity, and IT devices generate heat. As appealing as the concept of on-site zero-carbon power might be, it is impractical to move all datacentres to environmentally pristine locations.

So, although IT professionals may want to win sustainable awards, the IT industry is unlikely to receive such accolades in the near future. This presents a tough challenge, particularly when facing inquiries about Net Zero commitments from business leaders seeking more than just a status quo response. And, when you pose the same question to your IT software suppliers, a mere acknowledgment of the status quo is equally unsatisfactory.  

This is why more strategic IT software suppliers can be a better fit here, and part of the solution to those challenging green questions. 

Multi-Cloud can be your Green ally 

Cloud, especially multi-cloud solutions, offer a greener alternative to traditional on-premises setups. While acknowledging that the cloud isn't flawless, it is inherently more power-efficient than running numerous machines on-site. 

Public cloud vendors, leveraging economies of scale and energy-efficient build principles, are making significant strides in sustainability. For instance, Amazon's Graviton3 processors claim a 60% reduction in energy consumption compared to traditional X86 chips. And Google Cloud claims its facilities are 1.5 times more efficient than a typical enterprise datacentre. 

Therefore, if you are using cloud and want to know how your service provider is reducing their carbon impact and optimising their internal operations, you may already have a good Green IT answer. 

Partnering for Success 

Illustrating the effectiveness of a sustainable approach is Temenos, a global financial services and banking sector Independent Software Vendor (ISV). It has been incorporating green practices into its cloud-native architecture since 2011. A Yugabyte strategic partner, Temenos recently extended its commitment to environmental responsibility by ensuring that each new solution will have a lower environmental impact than its predecessor. The latest version of Temenos Banking Cloud demonstrates a remarkable 32% carbon efficiency improvement at runtime. The company has also developed a carbon emissions calculator to provide customers with detailed insights into the environmental impact of utilising Temenos Banking Cloud services.

The CIO’s Role in Energy Efficiency

As sustainability continues to gain prominence, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are expected to report on energy efficiency Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). While cloud solutions contribute to efficiency, there is a risk of wasteful practices, such as unnecessary scaling and excessive machine cycles. Organisations must actively monitor and manage their cloud usage, taking accountability for environmental costs rather than relying solely on hyperscalers to bear the Net Zero burden.

Understanding the ESG Impact

It is important to recognise that datacentre decisions directly influence the environmental aspect of the broader Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) framework. Businesses need to proactively gather and present data to internal and external stakeholders, including customers, to showcase the positive strides they are taking toward sustainability. Embracing a holistic approach to ESG through informed datacentre choices is pivotal for achieving comprehensive corporate responsibility.

Navigating the complexities of datacentre sustainability is crucial for organisations striving to meet their Net Zero commitments. By embracing greener cloud solutions, fostering strategic partnerships, and actively managing environmental impacts, IT professionals can position themselves as leaders in the evolving landscape of ESG-driven business practices.

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