Carbon and the cloud: why data can be part of the climate change problem

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Efforts to achieve carbon neutrality are mounting, with a global consensus that climate change is an urgent concern requiring international action.

While carbon-intensive industries such as manufacturing, transportation and agriculture are used to receiving public criticism for their environmental failings, data has emerged as another sticking point.

In the spirit of Earth Day, it may be time to rethink more sustainable solutions when it comes to data storage.

Creating and consuming data is growing by leaps and bounds

We are generating more data than ever before, which of course means that data centers are also growing to house increasingly complex IT infrastructures.

But these data storage centers, both on-premises and in the cloud, consume enormous amounts of energy and electricity. With new devices connecting to the internet every second, according to a recent McKinsey study, data centers account for 1.8% of electricity consumption in the United States and contribute 0.3% of all global CO2 emissions.

So if data flows like water trying to get out, it will eventually be nearly impossible to stay ahead of the dam. Fortunately, there are steps companies can take to plug the gaps early and go truly green in the near future.

Understand the impact of data storage

In the “Exponential Climate Action Roadmap” prepared by the World Economic Forum, digital technologies could help reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15% – a third of the 50% reduction required by 2030.

At first glance, this sounds like a lofty goal. But to reduce your carbon footprint, you first need to understand how your data storage is currently managed, both from an IT perspective and across other departments within your organization. This is about more than purchasing energy-efficient hardware.

Invest in low-code software to shape your digital workplace

Recently, Mendix, a low-code software development platform, and Atos, an IT services and consultancy firm, expanded their global partnership to drive digital decarbonization with their low-code enterprise solutions.

Atos is already building industry-specific solutions based on the Mendix platform to monitor, report and track real-time energy consumption and carbon emissions at 1,800 locations worldwide.

At a time when the tech industry is booming, the global software developer shortage is predicted to reach 85.2 million workers by 2030. This “developer drought” requires a paradigm shift in the way companies develop and maintain software applications.

Low-code tools are designed to manage updates through automation and help bridge the skills gap by enabling non-programmers to build products without having to learn complex computer languages. This not only frees up IT teams for other vital tasks, but also dramatically shortens their product’s time-to-market.

Johan den Haan, CTO of Mendix: “The goal of low-code is to deliver maximum value with minimal resources. If you want to decarbonize, you have to digitize. And if you want to digitize, you have to democratize your software with low-code solutions.”

Implement smart data management

In addition to ‘low-code’, the term ‘cloud native computing’ has become something of a collective term for the various systems and strategies that software developers need to create, deploy and manage modern software applications on a cloud infrastructure.

Research from Veritas Technologies shows that 99% of organizations plan to increase the workload in cloud environments over the next three years, with 98% attributing the shift to sustainability strategies. However, storing data in the cloud takes energy to power their servers, storage equipment, and cooling infrastructure, much of which comes from burning fossil fuels.

Eric Seidman, senior director at Veritas Technologies, says developing backup strategies with advanced deduplication can help organizations meet their environmental goals and reduce their carbon footprint.

At a high level, deduplication refers to a process that eliminates redundant data. Most enterprises make multiple copies of the same data sets, primarily to ensure there is always a backup in the event of a hardware failure or security breach.

While replication offers many benefits, US Grid Emissions Factor data shows that storing as little as 1 petabyte of unoptimized backup data in the cloud for one year can create up to 3.5 tons of carbon waste.

“To make data storage more efficient and less damaging to the climate, the data lifecycle needs to be managed intelligently,” Seidman says.

To achieve this, organizations must determine what data can be eliminated, compressed, and/or optimized for cloud storage.

This will result in conserved storage capacity, a reduction in idle time and significant savings on cloud storage.

Finding a balance between digitization and decarbonization

The more our economy becomes digitized, the more we will continue to rely on data storage centers to support it.

But the environmental implications behind data creation and storage can no longer be ignored. Key tech decision makers need to find environmentally sustainable ways to add value to a business — without moving at an icy pace.

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