Cloud enablement, Software development

More than just the right thing to do: Achieving sustainability with the cloud

More than just the right thing to do: Achieving sustainability with the cloud

Businesses are looking for ways to improve sustainability from within. One such method is by leveraging the cloud.

On the precipice of irreparable climate change with a global recession knocking on our door, environmental and economic sustainability is being recognised as a critical factor for good business practices as ESG principles take root around the globe.

Wanting to do their part, businesses are looking for ways to contribute towards their ESG (or Environment, Social, Governance) goals without disrupting day-to-day operations across their organisation. One such method gaining popularity is by leveraging the cloud. How? It’s actually more nuanced than you may think. 

How the cloud contributes towards sustainability

Popular cloud providers Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure have both set specific goals to ensure their businesses positively contribute towards global initiatives to improve the state of the environment. AWS for example has committed to drastically lowering their carbon footprint, aiming use 100% renewable energy by 2025, and to reach net-zero carbon across their operations by 2040. Azure has made similar commitments, also looking to use 100% renewable energy by 2025, be zero-waste and water positive (where they replenish more water than they consume) by 2030, and achieve net-zero deforestation from new construction. Both companies have taken significant steps towards these goals with surveys showing AWS’ infrastructure is already 3.6 times more energy efficient than the median of US enterprise data centres, and 5 times more energy efficient than the average in Europe. Azure on the other hand is currently engaged in over 40 projects around the world to help make a local impact and improve environmental outcomes.

Oracle and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) have set similar goals. Oracle is already recycling and reusing 99.9% of retired hardware and have 100% of their European data centres powered by renewable energy. GCP, who is already carbon neutral, is aiming to run on carbon-free energy, 24/7, at all data centres by 2030. 

Cementing this move towards sustainable practices, cloud providers are among the top purchasers of renewable technology and energy in the world (think wind farms and solar energy).

But what does this mean for businesses utilising the cloud?  

In a broad sense, many of the sustainable data centres operated by cloud providers are feeding power back into the grid through alternative power sources, offsetting their usage and helping both communities in those areas as well as the planet as a whole. But, through the use of shared resources inherent in cloud computing as well as the fact that private and on-premise data centres are becoming a thing of the past thanks to the prevalence of the cloud, companies are in turn limiting their carbon footprint.

Werner de Jager, managed cloud services (MServ) executive at BBD says that this collective buying when purchasing services from hyperscalers (like GCP or AWS) includes the automatic savings from not having to own equipment for your services to run on, maintain said equipment or power the environment and resources (like electricity, cooling, floor space or emergency safety systems). “This can contribute towards a business’ ESG goals, while saving costs.”

Advancements in virtualisation and software-defined infrastructure also helped make big leaps into decreasing the environmental impact of producing and running physical infrastructure. The rise of hyperscaler services and orchestration capabilities further accelerated this by providing the ability to consume at a micro-transaction level instead of running physical / virtual infrastructure 24/7.

BBD software engineer Victoria Bench adds that “auto-scaling, serverless technology and right-sizing are concepts that underpin cloud infrastructure and enable businesses to optimise their energy consumption by utilising only the resources they require in real-time. This ‘modernisation’ approach eliminates wasteful consumption from constantly powering resources catering for potential peak usage”.

Buying into these services also means that businesses utilising the cloud are joining a collective effort to apply good environmental practices which are inherent to the cloud provider operating models.

Another aspect to this is how utilising the cloud can help organisations move towards better business sustainability and continuity – another pillar of overall sustainability, which speaks to economic growth and job creation.

How the cloud enables business sustainability

Global market intelligence firm IDC predicts that by 2024, 45% of organisations worldwide will deem business and environmental sustainability considerations to be crucial for their technology buying decisions, and that by 2025, 85% of organisations will see a 35% increase in sustainable efficiencies using software and cloud-related infrastructures.

Echoing this importance, Bench mentions fault tolerance and disaster recovery (DR) within the cloud. De Jager agrees and remarks that through various geographic zones and well-designed infrastructure, organisations are able to leverage these capabilities to ensure that their business continues to run smoothly without having to worry about a natural disaster or system failure. He concludes with how “This not only brings peace of mind, but an opportunity for businesses to remain sustainable more easily”.

Cloud providers like AWS and Azure additionally provide services that simplify application deployment automation processes and subsequently eliminate toil, meaning employees can focus on value-driving initiatives rather than repetitive tasks. Not only is this helping spur organisations forward, but it enables businesses to stay competitive while ensuring continuity.

This focus on value-driving tasks has an added benefit: another pillar in sustainability is that which speaks to people – the Human pillar. By offloading cloud-related tasks to specialists, or your cloud enablement partner, businesses can create space for their employees and IT teams to concentrate on more meaningful, purpose-driven work instead of tasks which ‘keep the lights on’. This in turn means employees are more engaged, committed, innovative and accepting of transformational change as your business continues to grow. “Yes, this makes an organisation more sustainable, but it also helps ensure that the people in your charge are happier and more productive” adds Bench.

The three sides of sustainability

Doing our part to help the planet makes each of us feel good, but from a business perspective, sustainability can be looked at from three lenses. The first two we’ve discussed: positively contributing to the global climate crisis; and harnessing the best value your employees can add with good ESG practices and policies that promote value-driven activities and purposeful work, motivated by feelings of helping your company be greener. The third relates to the cloud itself: FinOps.

FinOps is a practice where you assess the resources you’re using in the cloud alongside your spend, ultimately seeking to understand how you can either decrease spend leaving your resources utiilised untouched, or decrease the resources used to reduce your overall spend. It fits into the overarching pay per use model of the cloud, where you only pay for that which you need, and relates to how well you’ve architected your setup.

Tightly associated with FinOps is AWS’ concept of Observability where you surface what your actual costs are and where they stem from, and then use the Well-Architected Framework to assess if your workloads are architected as best as possible for the cloud.

The ideal situation for any organisation is to modernise and optimise their architecture as far as possible, and then leverage the purchasing mechanisms that most hyperscalers have. AWS, for example, has mechanisms that save customers up to 75% of resource costs compared to the on-demand instances which the majority of customers are using. Achieving these kinds of savings requires an understanding of the business infrastructure, applications and workflows, as well as the funding and purchasing mechanisms available from providers.

“The strength of any good building lies in its foundation” says De Jager. Implementing cloud environments requires cloud architects to step in and design a solution that will deliver on expectations and requirements. Architects want efficiency, not only because it makes the cloud environment more effective and efficient, but also as it enables it to be more sustainable in the long run.

So efficiency equals more sustainability. But how do you do it in practice?

Architecting sustainability

“As an AWS Advanced Tier Partner with a designation in the Well Architected programme among others, as well as experience across both AWS and Azure, we embed our solutions with architectural and FinOps best practices” says De Jager.

The AWS Well Architected Framework has six pillars of focus: operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, cost optimisation, and sustainability.

The sustainability pillar within the Framework looks at the long-term environmental, economic and societal impacts of a business’ activities through six design principles:

  • Understand your impact
  • Establish sustainability goals
  • Maximise utilisation
  • Anticipate and adopt new, more efficient hardware and software offerings
  • Use managed services
  • Reduce the downstream impact of your cloud workloads

Well-Architected Reviews use the above principles to assess and observe where your organisation currently lies, and the resultant report is often beneficial when needing to report back on business sustainability.

As a partner who can provides Well Architected Reviews, BBD’s cloud team use the framework to assess and understand your cloud infrastructure in order to provide remediation suggestions to make it all more efficient, more cost-effective, and ultimately more sustainable. “It’s at this point where we look to modernise or re-engineer using the likes of microservices and containers to squeeze every last drop of efficiency from the cloud for your business. From there, the cycle continues – we observe, remediate, modernise.”

Partnering with the BBD teams also ensures you not only have experts assessing and improving your current architecture, but that you have experts maintaining, monitoring and modernising your multi-or hybrid-cloud going forward. “Helping companies implement solutions that are both good for their business operations and good for the world around us all is important to our teams” concludes De Jager.

So now?

Whether you’re looking to adopt better practices for the environment, want to motivate your employees, improve business efficiency, or simply need to re-evaluate your spend in light of coming economic turmoil, harnessing the cloud may just be the answer.

If you’re looking for a cloud partner who works with you to understand what solution will be best for your business and strategic goals and then deliver on that, reach out to us or learn more about our wide range of cloud services.

What’s next? We’re ready!