Assessing the Cloud's Sustainability – Green Cloud

The critical questions when it comes to green cloud computing are:

  • Is cloud computing sustainable?
  • How can a potential user select a cloud service based on sustainability metrics?

To approach the issue, we need to look at the self-interests of the providers. Sustainability is the topic of the day. Practically every provider is trying to promote their solutions as sustainable, is publishing sustainability reports, and has set itself more or less ambitious goals. If their infrastructure is not sustainable enough or the electricity does not come from renewable sources, compensation projects are funded to get closer to sustainability goals. On the other hand, providers also aim to work as efficiently as possible to keep operating costs under control. Given the massive increase in electricity costs, investments in modern air-conditioning technology and other facility-related measures certainly pay off, and also help boost the sustainability image.

It is currently not easy for user organizations to evaluate the overall impact of using cloud services on the environment, but also to identify which cloud service has a more sustainable approach than the others. There are highly complex metrics around to assess the sustainability of cloud computing, and even of single cloud services. However, the data provided by cloud providers is insufficient for those metrics to work. In the end, user organizations have to stick to more general metrics to evaluate the sustainability of a cloud provider:

  • Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE): PUE = Total Energy/IT Energy; a value of 1.9 is average, 1.3 is good, 1.1 is optimal.
  • Green Energy Coefficient (GEC): GEC = Renewable Energy/Total Energy; as renewable energy is available, 100% should be the target.
  • Temperature Per Cabinet: The 18°C limit has been gone for 15 years; today, the limit of 28°C must not be exceeded, with humidity at between 50% and 70%.
  • Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE): WUE = Water Usage/IT Energy; a value of 0.4liter/kWh should be achieved.
  • Additional commitments such as recycling quotas are important, but not all cloud providers provide that kind of information.

Providers that do not even provide this basic information should be eliminated right away unless they provide a very unique service that is needed and not available elsewhere.

PAC’s recommendations for IT providers:

  • Sustainability is the topic of the day, especially in IT and cloud computing. Greenwashing is definitely not in demand, but genuinely sustainable offerings are.
  • IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS providers should optimize their data centers with respect to efficiency. Renewable energy should be used from now on. Housing and hosting providers should be on the same page.
  • Sustainability goals should be ambitious and geared to what is possible, not to minimum requirements.
  • IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS providers should provide customers with ESG dashboards for their service consumption so that they can easily use this information for their own ESG reporting.

PAC’s recommendations for IT users:

  • Put pressure on IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS as well as housing and hosting providers to offer genuinely sustainable solutions.
  • Put pressure on IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS providers to provide figures for PUE, WUE, and recycling quotas (make sure thermal recycling, which is waste incineration, is excluded).
  • Ask for ESG dashboards for the services you use to give you a detailed overview of the actual situation.
  • Make sure data centers (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS) are powered by 100% renewable energy (solar, wind, and hydropower).

Is cloud computing per se green? What are the hyperscalers doing to achieve green cloud computing? Are there other providers around? Discover more in my recent InBrief Analysis “Assessing the Cloud's Sustainability – Green Cloud”. If you want to share your feedback or personal experience, please leave a comment or drop me an e-mail.