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Cloud could reduce CO2 by at least 1bn metric tonnes in 4 years

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Among other things, an IDC forecast compares the emissions from cloud and non-cloud data centres.

A new study from International Data Corporation (IDC) shows that the continued adoption of cloud computing could prevent the emission of more than 1 billion metric tonnes (equivalent of about 1.1 US tons) of carbon dioxide (CO2) between 2021 and 2024.

The forecast uses IDC data on server distribution, cloud and on-premises software use along with third-party information on data centre power usage, carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt-hour, and emission comparisons of cloud and non-cloud datacenters.

Aggregation

A key factor in reducing the CO2 emissions associated with cloud computing comes from the greater efficiency of aggregated compute resources.

Reduced emissions come from aggregating computation from discrete enterprise data centres to larger-scale ones that can manage power capacity more efficiently, optimise cooling, leverage the most power-efficient servers, and increase server usage rates.

Greener power

At the same time, the magnitude of savings is based on how much CO2 a kilowatt (KW) of power generates. This varies widely from region to region and country to country, hence the greatest potential to reduce CO2 by migrating to cloud data centres is regions that generate the most CO2 per KW.

The Asia/Pacific region uses coal for much of its power generation and so is expected to account for more than half the CO2 emissions savings over the next four years.

Meanwhile EMEA will deliver about 10% of the savings, largely because it uses power sources that generage less CO2 emissions per KW hour.

Waste less, shift workloads

Another major factor in cutting CO2 is reducing wasted energy. Cloud data centres are optimising the physical environment and reducing the amount of energy needed to cool data centres. The goal of an efficient data centre is to spend more energy running IT kit than cooling its environment.

Another way cloud computing centres can lower CO2 emissions is by shifting workloads to any location around the globe. This capability was developed to deliver IT service wherever it is needed, but also  enables workloads to move to locations that use more renewable energy like wind and solar power.

How much greener in four years?

IDC's forecast includes upper and lower bounds for the estimated reduction in emissions: if the percentage of green cloud data centres stays remains the same, just the migration to cloud itself could save 629 million metric tonnes over four years.

If all data centres in use in 2024 were designed for sustainability, that goes up to 1.6 billion metric tonnes. IDC's projection of more than 1 billion metric tonnes is based on the assumption that 60% of data centres will adopt the technology and processes underlying more sustainable ones by 2024.

"The idea of 'green IT' has been around now for years, but the direct impact of hyperscale computing can have on CO2 emissions is getting increased notice from customers, regulators, and investors and it's starting to factor into buying decisions," said Cushing Anderson, Program VP at IDC.

"For some, going 'carbon neutral' will be achieved using carbon offsets, but designing datacenters from the ground up to be carbon neutral will be the real measure of contribution. And for advanced cloud providers, matching workloads with renewable energy availability will further accelerate their sustainability goals."