The Green Lining in Cloud Computing


In current COVID times, the mantra for success includes a healthy mix of innovation with thoughtfulness and corporate social responsibility. As the efforts toward digital transformation are accelerating, so are the pressures to operate as responsible businesses. More and more CXOs are working on striking the right balance between accelerating digital transformation and their sustainability strategy, in addition to adopting a more digitized stand with a “cloud-first” approach.

Sustainability in the Cloud

Companies have historically driven financial, security, and agility benefits through the cloud, but sustainability is becoming imperative. According to the United Nations Global Compact-Accenture Strategy CEO Study on Sustainability, more than 99% of CEOs from large companies now agree that “sustainability issues are important to the future success of their businesses.” Two-thirds of the CEOs view the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies as a critical factor for accelerating socio-economic impact. 59% of CEOs say that they are deploying low-carbon and renewable energy across their operations today. 

By embracing the power of a sustainable cloud, CXOs can alleviate the pressures and discover new sources of innovation and growth. Over the next five years, every enterprise will find itself having to respond to pressures around improved environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts. This pressure will come from diverse stakeholders, notably investors, regulators, the supply chain partners.

Moreover, customers/consumers increasingly expect brands to act, organizations must now demonstrate that they are purposeful about sustainability, hold strong ethical standards, and operate responsibly in everything they do.

According to the UNCG-Accenture study, it is evident that 44% of the CEOs see a net-zero future for their company in the next 10 years. While "Sustainability" is the favorite keyword of the season, leadership is moving away from a "nice-to-think-about" approach, beyond buying Carbon offset credits, when it comes to Sustainability and trying to invest in a technological infrastructure that drives innovation as well as thoughtfulness.

A study conducted by Microsoft, Accenture, and WSP Environment & Energy shows that organizations can achieve an energy and carbon (CO2) emissions reduction of 30 to 90 percent by switching to cloud computing. Small businesses benefit the most by moving to the cloud, but even large companies can see substantial net energy and carbon savings.

Is it possible that migrating to cloud computing might help your business achieve its sustainability goals and positively affect its bottom line?


Cloud migration can deliver reducing costs and carbon emissions if migration is approached rightly from a sustainability perspective.

While the public cloud can help with an organization’s Sustainability goals, one needs to have a focused approach to cloud migration. This can help reduce global carbon (CO2) emissions, drive greater circularity and result in more sustainable products and services.

5 Considerations for a Sustainable Cloud-First Journey

1. Define Your Sustainability Soal and Strategy

  • The sustainable cloud journey involves different levels of ambition — the greater the ambition, the greater the benefits.
  • Establish a shared definition for Sustainability goals, and ambitions — Without a shared definition and perspective, the enterprise reduces the likelihood of a strategic and coherent approach, resulting in wasted time and money. Develop a shared and clear understanding of concepts and approaches that enable sustainability, and scope the enterprise’s approach, including corporate social responsibility, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, carbon neutrality, and the circular economy.
  • Establish governance and management processes
  • Have a dedicated team driving Sustainability agenda across corporate functions

While defining your strategy, take advantage of the current heightened focus on environmental sustainability to push disruptive approaches. Use the current push of “new normal” to accelerate your Cloud adoption and revisit your:

  • Security policies
  • Application modernization disposition strategy
  • Cloud Operating model
  • Cloud strategy

2. Select the Right Cloud Provider

The second step in the journey begins with selecting the right carbon-thoughtful provider. Cloud providers set different corporate commitments towards sustainability, which in turn determine how they plan, build, power, operate, and retire their data center. Carbon emissions can differ widely across providers even though all providers have focused on driving down energy consumption to standard benchmarks.

It is important to choose the right cloud partner who has corporate commitments towards sustainability that is compatible with your enterprise. All major hyperscalers have published their Sustainability goals and CO3 emissions facts — Microsoft, AWS, and Google.

In most cases, cloud providers also have greater renewable energy mixes than cloud users and minimize data center carbon footprints through renewable energy. For a typical organization, Public Cloud migrations can lead to an impressive 60%+ energy reduction and 80%+ carbon reduction.

While selecting your Cloud partner, look for openness, transparency, and level of support provided for sustainability goals. Simple things can make a difference:

  • Commitment to technological innovation applied with Sustainability in Public Cloud Datacenters
  • Circular value chains of cloud provider’s hardware
  • Customer-facing services, like carbon calculators or granular cloud lifecycle emissions reporting, help companies monitor their cloud footprint. Example: Microsoft Sustainability Calculator
  • Partnership models like Transform to Net Zero

3. Plan Your Cloud Migration With the Right Capabilities

To achieve your sustainability goals, you need to plan your sustainable cloud migration carefully. For an enterprise that is new to this journey of digital transformation, it is important to get a consultant or an expert on board.

Some key areas that you might want to focus on are:

3a. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) migration

  • Establish a balance between IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and CaaS (Container as a service) as a destination deployment model
  • Reduce the overlap of on-premise and cloud infra as much as possible — During your migration, evaluate approaches that include Simulation/Emulation based solutions for accelerated migrations and MIPS reduction.
  • Right-sizing
  • Plan the migration using the right level of automation

3b. Sustainable Software engineering practices

  • While IaaS migrations can reduce carbon emissions by more than 80% compared with conventional infrastructure, reductions can be pushed even higher — up to 95%, by designing applications specifically for the cloud.
  • Selecting the appropriate fit-for-purpose programming language and capabilities instead of best of breed options
  • Choosing the right application model
  • Level of customization vs adoption of standard capabilities
  • Choosing the right AI models, approach for model training, the balance between the accuracy of the analytical model and cloud resource consumption
  • Choosing the right Automated testing tools

You need to ensure that your solution is capable of the following factors -

  • Dynamic Provisioning — With dynamic provisioning, large operations provide server capacity demands tailored to your organization’s needs. This dynamic service is based on an ongoing basis to match their server needs for efficient operations.
  • Choosing Multi-Tenancy
  • Selective Server Utilization — Footprint can be reduced by focusing on portions of a server’s capacity that are subjected to higher workloads. By following this procedure, cloud providers can encourage efficient processes along with producing a smaller infrastructure footprint.
  • Select the right partner and ISV ecosystem — Choose your partner and ISV solution with the right level of values in a circular economy — the one where the resources are kept functional for as long as possible. 

4. Develop Your Cloud Operating Model and Optimize Your Cloud Usage

Cloud operating model is your organization’s blueprint for delivering on its cloud strategy. I would suggest, redefine your Cloud operating model and add Sustainability as a principle in your Cloud Operating model. The three principles of your cloud operating model — People, Technology, Processes, should co-exist with green initiatives.

  • Your organization should be well-versed with the concepts of sustainability and recycling. The enterprise should utilize processes that comply with sustainable governing policies and are in line with its broader sustainability goals.
  • Ensure Cloud Cost Optimization is an integral part of the Cloud operating model
  • Add Sustainability considerations in your Cloud cost optimization controls
  • Get your Cloud economics right with clear Sustainability goals associated with Cloud optimization strategy. Consider what your business needs in terms of backup and retention and develop a process to manage and maintain this data. 

5. Develop Your Own Well-Architected Framework

Most of the hyperscalers have developed the Well-Architected Framework (WAF) that helps your enterprise stay abreast with the best practices in Architecture for designing and operating efficient cloud systems. A typical WAF consists of 5 major pillars:

  • Cost Optimization — The ability to deliver value at the lowest price point.
  • Security — The ability to protect data, systems, and assets to improve the security of the enterprise.
  • Reliability — The ability to perform the assigned functions correctly and consistently.
  • Operational Excellence — The ability to support the operations of the enterprise, learn from the experiences, and to improve the processes based on past learnings.
  • Performance Efficiency — The ability of technological resources to efficiently meet the system requirements and to maintain efficiency according to the trend of technological evolution.

I would suggest adding the following two additional pillars to the WAF framework to include the “green agenda” and achieve our sustainability goals: 

5a. Sustainability pillar for a solution in Public Cloud

This brings us back to opting for Multi-tenancy in Public cloud and selective server utilization.

When your enterprise chooses the shared public cloud, you save on the heavy infrastructure and maintenance costs as well as you cut down on the energy consumption and carbon emission because there isn’t a need for a separate data center to use the non-renewable resources and focus on your operations.

Additionally, you can save more energy by shifting to a Selective Server Utilization approach where you let the heavy workload do its thing and let the less occupied sections of the server rest.

5b. Cloud Migration and Managed Service Provider

In addition to selecting the right Cloud provider, you also need to select your Cloud Managed Services and migration partner carefully. While considering cloud-managed services, infrastructure, and app outsourcing providers, look for the right set of solutions in areas including levels of automation, sustainability by design in the toolset, office space, and workforce management.

What I describe as the green lining of these MSPs is when their “green agenda” is in line with your sustainability goals — this strikes the right chord of action-oriented sustainability policies.

Some of the things to watch out for when choosing your Cloud MSP include:

  • Corporate sustainability goals that go beyond carbon offset
  • Sustainable design and processes used for the workforce, Cloud Managed Services (CMS) solution and beyond
  • Level of automation used in CMS/CMP solution
  • Penetration of public cloud in internal IT of MSP
  • Adoption of DevSecOps practices, Infra as Code, Everything as Code (Document, Configuration, Security, etc.)
  • The ability of the Cloud MSP to adopt new capabilities from hyperscalers, as most of the time new capabilities would be cheaper and greener too.
  • Criteria for a successful cloud migration that is green — your Cloud MSP should understand your goals, curates the right set of solutions tailored to your processes, and focuses on the right level of automation required for action-oriented sustainability policy.

Is Cloud Computing for Sustainability Worth the Hype?

It’s time for enterprises to ensure sustainability goals are an integral part of corporate strategy and its purpose. Cloud is critical to unlocking greater financial, social, and environmental benefits through cloud-based circular operations and sustainable products and services.

By combining Cloud with 4th industrial revolution technologies, companies can drive better customer outcomes. Careful association of sustainability perspective to cloud computing and accelerated Cloud adoption can help an organization reduce energy use and the carbon footprint associated with running business applications.

It is important to choose the correct cloud service providers with the right level of automation and an action-oriented Sustainability policy that is compatible with your corporate responsibilities involving Sustainability. Additionally, organizations should focus on a circular economy where longevity and recyclability are ensured to make the most out of their resources.

Additional References:

  • T. Jena, J.R. Mohanty, and R. Sahoo, “Paradigm shift to green cloud computing”, J. Theor. Appl. Inform. Technol., vol. 77, no. 3, pp. 1–10, 2015.
  • Balasooriya, Prasanna & Wibowo, Santoso & Wells, Marilyn. (2016). Green Cloud Computing and Economics of the Cloud. Journal on Computing. 
  • Microsoft Will Be Carbon Negative by 2030, Microsoft.
  • “What Is a Circular Economy?”, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
  • “What Is the Paris Agreement?”, United Nations Climate Change.

By Gaurav Agarwaal

Keywords: Cloud, COVID19, Digital Twins

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