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Case Study: Cloud Infra another threat for environment

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Aniket Kumar's picture
Product Manager, Yokogawa Electric Corporation

Aniket is currently leading product management role and developing the next version of disruptive products for sustainability of multiple sectors and building success stories & new business...

  • Member since 2023
  • 38 items added with 6,333 views
  • Jan 30, 2023

Cloud infrastructure, which includes data centers and other related infrastructure, has grown rapidly in recent years, driven by the increasing demand for cloud-based services such as storage, computing, and software. However, the growth of cloud infrastructure has also led to an increase in carbon emissions, as these services require large amounts of energy to power and cool the servers that store and process data.

A study by the Carbon Trust found that data centers, which are a key component of cloud infrastructure, were responsible for approximately 2% of global carbon emissions in 2020. Furthermore, the study projected that the energy consumption of data centers is expected to triple by 2030.

One major contributor to the carbon emissions of cloud infrastructure is the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. In many regions, the majority of electricity is still generated from coal, natural gas, and oil, which have high carbon emissions. Additionally, data centers often require cooling systems to keep the servers from overheating, which also consume large amounts of energy.

Many large tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, have committed to using 100% renewable energy for their data centers. Additionally, several industry groups, such as the Green Grid, have developed guidelines and best practices for designing and operating energy-efficient data centers.

In 2020, Google and Amazon were the largest data center companies with the highest CO2 emissions, followed by Microsoft and Facebook. Google and Amazon together accounted for over 2% of the total emissions, while Microsoft and Facebook accounted for just over 1%.

There are several ways to mitigate carbon emissions from data centers, including:

  1. Increasing energy efficiency: One of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions from data centers is to improve their energy efficiency. This can be achieved by using more energy-efficient servers, cooling systems, and other infrastructure. Additionally, implementing power management and virtualization technologies can help to reduce energy consumption.
  2. Using renewable energy: Using renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to generate electricity for data centers can significantly reduce their carbon footprint. Some companies have committed to using 100% renewable energy for their data centers.
  3. Utilizing green energy certificates: Some companies opt to buy green energy certificates, which indicate that a certain amount of energy was generated from renewable sources, to offset their data center's emissions.
  4. Adopting a modular approach: Modular data centers offer a more efficient way of delivering power and cooling to the IT equipment, leading to lower energy consumption and emissions.
  5. Implementing energy-efficient cooling techniques: Data center cooling is a significant energy consumer, as such adopting energy-efficient cooling techniques such as liquid cooling, free cooling and using outside air can help to reduce emissions.
  6. Carbon offsetting: Some companies opt to offset their data center's emissions by investing in carbon offset projects, such as reforestation or renewable energy projects.  Microsoft has contracted a total of 1.3 million greenhouse gas emissions offsets for 2021 as part of a drive to become carbon negative by 2030.
  7. Industry collaboration: Working with industry groups, such as the Green Grid, to develop guidelines and best practices for designing and operating energy-efficient data centers can also help to reduce emissions.

It's worth noting that different data centers may have different emission profiles and thus may require different mitigation strategies. A combination of the above-mentioned strategies can be the most effective approach to lower the carbon emissions of data centers.

In conclusion, the growth of cloud infrastructure has led to an increase in carbon emissions. While the benefits of cloud services are undeniable, it is important to take steps to reduce the environmental impact of cloud infrastructure. This can be achieved through the use of renewable energy sources, energy-efficient design and operations, and using energy-efficient cloud services. Industry collaboration and commitment from major companies in the industry are also crucial to achieve this goal.

Pam Jeffries's picture
Pam Jeffries on Feb 1, 2023

Hi Aniket, thanks for posting about this important topic. Curious - is there a comparison of carbon emissions between cloud data centers and the data centers/servers that used to be run on premises? Is the shift not a 1:1 ratio? If not, why not, do you think?

Aniket Kumar's picture
Aniket Kumar on Feb 9, 2023

Hi Pam, Thank you for the message. This is basically on carbon emission due to cloud data centers. This is also applicable for on-premise data centre. 


Aniket Kumar's picture
Thank Aniket for the Post!
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