Cloud-Native Computing is Good for the Environment

Building cloud-native applications offers many advantages for the modern enterprise—including reduced costs, improved efficiency, greater scalability, easier development and simplified support. But did you know that building cloud-native applications is also good for the environment?

Public cloud providers—such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google—have taken over data centers. These three public cloud providers account for over half of the world’s largest data centers. This consolidation of data centers has enabled another—albeit lesser-known—advantage of cloud computing: The greening of the data center.

All three companies are driving toward data center sustainability and environmental responsibility—key driving forces in the massive build-out of data centers worldwide. AWS alone boasts that its infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy efficient than the median U.S. enterprise data center. 

Why are data center companies going green in droves? Because it makes financial sense. Data centers can be located almost anywhere, so locating them near cheap and highly available sustainable energy sources (such as wind, water and solar) means the huge quantities of electricity that power data centers can be acquired more economically. Additionally, using greener energy sources provides huge public relations benefits to public cloud providers.

Therefore, it’s not just the data centers themselves that are greener—operating applications in the public cloud requires less energy than operating applications on-premises. Why does an application running in the cloud use less energy than running on-premises? There are several reasons: First, the ability to operate dynamic infrastructures in the public cloud means an application doesn’t require numerous servers idling around unused, waiting to handle peak application usage times. This reduces the resources required to run an application. The cloud provider’s dynamics of scale can provide more intelligent load balancing of resources across a smaller footprint of physical servers. Finally, the centralization of numerous servers means that the economics of scale make using eco-friendly energy sources—such as wind and water—far more financially viable.

The overall result: A typical application can run using substantially less energy in the public cloud than an equivalent on-premises application. According to AWS, moving an application to the cloud can reduce your carbon emissions by 88%.

And the improvements will keep coming. As the major cloud providers continue to expand and innovate, their ability to leverage greener energy options will continue to grow. Google already boasts 100% usage of renewable energy for its data centers. 

Plus, data centers, by their very nature, can be located almost anywhere, even underwater. The nature of communications technology means that the speed of communicating with an application in a data center is irrelevant of its physical location. As such, data centers can be located near where inexpensive renewable energy is available. That means data centers can be located near giant wind farms, hydroelectric dams, or large solar arrays. Project Natick, Microsoft’s offshore renewable energy-powered data center experiment, is a great example of this.  So-called dark data centers—data centers that need little or no human contact—offer a great opportunity to use point-of-creation renewable energy sources efficiently and economically. 

So, data centers take less energy—that’s great. But how much of an impact does this actually make on worldwide energy usage?

The answer is: Quite a significant impact. According to some estimates, by 2030, more than 20% of all global electricity usage will be for information and communications usage. Already today, data centers account for 1% to 2% of all worldwide energy usage.

Data centers use considerable energy, and their centralized nature means we can apply eco-friendly strategies to reduce their energy usage. The result is a significant impact on worldwide energy usage. So, go ahead and build that cloud-native application. Use more and more cloud computing. After all, it’s good for the environment—and your bottom line!

Lee Atchison

Lee Atchison is an author and recognized thought leader in cloud computing and application modernization with more than three decades of experience, working at modern application organizations such as Amazon, AWS, and New Relic. Lee is widely quoted in many publications and has been a featured speaker across the globe. Lee’s most recent book is Architecting for Scale (O’Reilly Media).

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