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GreenOps, FinOps and the sustainable cloud

The consistent profile of high-utilization data centers may lead one to believe that cloud data centers are much more sustainable than private cloud data centers. However, data shows that the public cloud currently has a larger carbon footprint than the aviation industry, a notoriously emissions-intensive segment. A single public data center can use the same amount of electricity as 50,000 homes. The public data center’s annual energy consumption of 200 terawatts per hour is greater than the annual consumption of some nation states. Increasing consumer pressure and new EU regulatory reporting requirements, such as the German Energy Efficiency Act, which mandates a 26.5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 levels by 2030, have opened the door to GreenOps.

What is GreenOps?

GreenOps is the practice of minimizing the carbon footprint of a cloud environment through the efficient use of cloud resources. This means much more than just reducing the energy needed to power the data center and the water used to cool it. Other factors such as data center square footage, type of installed power, size of data volumes, data center temperature setpoints, secondary heat reuse, and even renewable energy all contribute to the CO₂ emissions calculation. By September 2024, the European Data Center Reporting Scheme, a subsidiary of the European Energy Efficiency Directive, will require European organizations to report on All these factors.

While Europe is leading the way, other regulations and initiatives around the world are promoting more sustainable energy consumption patterns: Climate/ESG disclosures US Investments, China’s National Renewable Energy Development Plan, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations and National Mission Sunny in India, to name a few.

A cross between FinOps and GreenOps

From an overall perspective, GreenOps looks very similar to FinOps. After all, they both have the same goal: efficient use of the cloud. When a company maximizes efficiency, the two obvious impacts are 1) lower costs and 2) lower carbon emissions. The same FinOps tasks, such as resizing, storage tiering, removing idle and unattached resources, and scheduling compute downtime, are also used in GreenOps to achieve lower carbon emissions. Closing last year’s edition of AWS re:Invent, Werner Vogels reinforced this sentiment by saying that “Cost is a close determinant of sustainability” – a telling confirmation of the tightly integrated relationship between FinOps and GreenOps.

What now?

New EU regulatory reporting requirements, together with increased consumer and shareholder pressure, will build the case for more efficient and therefore more sustainable cloud use around the world. For example, new technologies that use water instead of air to cool data centers have shown up to 95% reductions in CO₂ emissions. However, sustainability is not solely the responsibility of the public cloud provider. Forrester recommends that companies take the following actions:

  • Reduce emissions through monitoring. Use a carbon monitoring tool such as GreenOps by Cycloid, Green Ledger by SAP, Google’s carbon footprint tool, or AWS’s customer carbon footprint tool. Start by measuring your current state to identify opportunities to reduce your CO₂ emissions, whether using native tools from a cloud provider or multi-cloud solutions.
  • Design your tasks with lower carbon intensity. Use workload placement tools that take into account the carbon intensity of specific cloud regions. Select specific regions that benefit from more sustainable energy. AWS’s U.S.-East (Northern Virginia, Ohio), GovCloud (U.S. East, U.S.-West), and Europe (Ireland) operations use all of their electricity using renewable energy. Google Cloud data centers in Montreal, Toronto and Santiago use at least over 90% carbon-free energy.
  • Minimize data transfer between regions. Apart from the obvious cost of exit fees, the carbon impact of data transmission can be up to 3kg. CON2e/GB. In cases where redundancy or uptime is not a top priority, avoid unnecessary data transfers between regions.
  • Demand transparency from your public cloud provider. Currently, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure report all Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. AWS only reports Scope 1 and 2; promised to make Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions data free, but has not yet done so.
  • Use managed cloud services to automate waste disposal. Managed services like AWS Lambda or Azure Functions mask the complexity of the backend for developers. They also eliminate unnecessary consumption by turning off idle calculations, thereby reducing costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

These are some of the easier, immediate actions organizations can take to minimize their carbon footprint and maximize the value of their cloud investments, but they are not the only ones. We will continue to explore this topic in the coming months. Come and talk to us if you want to learn more about this space or share your experiences with us.

To learn more, organize a Q&A session with Dario Maisto (GreenOps and Cloud Sustainability) or Tracy Woo (FinOps).