It’s not easy being green.
The more you look into it, the more you realise exactly how much of a knock on effect so many parts of daily life actually have.
Cloud Computing, as it turns out, is no exception.
At Black Pepper, I’d like to think we are pretty good at being socially responsible. We use local businesses, allow work from home, recycle company-wide, operate a cycle to work scheme and even have office plants to absorb indoor pollution. Up until recently, I didn’t think that Cloud Computing factored into this too much - as far as I was concerned, it was just a more scalable and on-demand service to be used instead of internal servers.
I have since started to believe otherwise. Cloud Computing could be a real global influence in the next few years, and we need to start paying attention right now.
Conversations with passionate workers in the software industry, and a great insta-rant at FFS Conf 2018 both pointed me to the Sustainable Servers for 2024 petition on change.org, and I very cautiously went down the rabbit hole of energy usage in Cloud Data Centres.
To support the petition and to enhance wider understanding of the current issues in Cloud Computing, a fantastic whitepaper by Paul Johnston and Anne Currie entitled “The State Of Data Centre Energy Use In 2018” has been published as a companion document. In the paper, Johnston and Currie highlight the main energy issues that data centres (and more widely, companies that deal in software) have.
The paper discusses the (still widespread) use of fossil fuels to power data centres across the globe, where carbon neutral alternatives could be considered instead.
“According to estimates, our data centres currently produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as the aviation industry. That's 2% of the world's emissions now and as data centre usage is projected to increase five times by 2025, emissions are set to soar. Bitcoin mining alone could require 0.5% of humanity's energy by the end of the year. We're already increasing energy costs for the poorest and accelerating global environmental damage.”
That’s pretty scary.
But when we step back and consider it, it makes perfect sense. As technology becomes more ubiquitous in society, of course data centres will make up a larger proportion of the world’s electricity consumption - and with that, global emissions, right?
Well, not necessarily. There are already movements towards a greener cloud. The document formally recommends the technology sector to start adopting stricter policies of sustainably-powered servers, and breaks down each major cloud computing provider in terms of their sustainability.
I recommend reading this whitepaper in full for a far more complete understanding, but for the sake of getting the word out; Google and Azure boast 100% sustainability with offset energy and energy certificates, with Amazon Web Services currently in third place with a long term goal to go entirely renewable. Also of note is that for companies already bought in to the Amazon ecosystem, 5 of their existing data centre regions are carbon neutral (one of which, AWS’ Ireland Region, is already being used in-house at Black Pepper).
Black Pepper fully backs this movement, and now as part of our internal technology strategy we have decided we will use AWS Ireland to host our systems as we migrate them to cloud platforms. At the time of writing, our website infrastructure is being moved.
Most interestingly, the whitepaper emphasises that 100% sustainable servers are entirely achievable today. Dependent on cloud providers, you might already be using them. Some simple starting steps are outlined under the ‘Consumer Action’ heading of the paper.
By and large, technology is an industry full of innovative and inventive people, and has huge potential to be an overwhelming force for all kinds of social good. By rallying together and making a conscious decision to utilise the greener clouds that are already out there, and telling cloud providers that the community wants greener alternatives (both at enterprise and personal levels), we can be a bit more responsible for our future.