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Be green, or cease to be?

The cloud must not only be sovereign, but also sustainable. Only then will it be ready for the future

August 02 2022Thomas Rumpf

Knocking on the Clouds door

European companies are looking more and more closely at the cloud: they are insisting on the sovereignty of data, technology, and operations, and taking the issue of security very seriously. And that's a good thing. But be careful: that alone is not enough. What should companies look for when choosing a future-proof cloud service? Decision-makers also need to consider the sustainability of cloud services. Only then will they be making a future-proof choice.

It is important that companies marry the benefits of digital technologies and sustainability requirements. However, this requires a comprehensive framework that recognizes and balances the complexity of both issues as well as the ecosystem as a whole."

Steffen Roos, Detecon

Thinking bigger about sovereignty

Business man working on a tablet in a greenhouse

A few weeks ago, I traveled to the USA on business. It was the first time I'd done so in more than two years. It was an exciting and enjoyable experience. Prior to the pandemic, I was there almost every month, flying out to visit one of our clients or partners. In future, I will be using videoconferencing much more often with my business contacts instead of boarding a plane. The pandemic and climate change have made me more aware and reflective. With this in mind, I will continue to have virtual exchanges. It is not only the youth involved in Fridays for Future who are taking a closer look at what it means to live and work sustainably. Most companies are also setting ambitious climate targets for D-Day – both out of genuine conviction and because of increasing regulations. As a result, they now need to take a closer look at how sustainably the sovereign cloud services that so many are currently talking about are being delivered. It is high time that we broadened the concept of sovereignty.

Sovereignty and sustainability, hand in hand

Digital sovereignty is simply a matter of self-determined action and decision-making in the digital space. In his blog post "The Search for Sovereignty", my colleague Oliver Queck has unraveled what is commonly understood by the term. When it comes to cloud and cloud services, there are usually three elements involved: data sovereignty, software sovereignty, and operational sovereignty. All three are undoubtedly incredibly important. However, these alone are not enough. A sovereign cloud service also needs to be sustainable in order to thrive in the future. I believe this is the necessary fourth element of sovereignty, as it is the only future-oriented factor. I also believe that sovereignty is a matter of self-determination – and sustainability is a part of that. Neglecting sustainability is short-sighted and will come back to haunt us sooner or later. Every user must be able to determine how climate-friendly the provision of their sovereign cloud services is.

Nothing comes without consequences

The question is just one of how serious they are. We all know that everyone has to do their part in the fight against climate change. Every individual person, every company, every society, and every country. After all, we are all in the same boat, so only together can we make the difference – now and in the future. It is clear that digitalization will be essential for the future. Unfortunately, however, this doesn't automatically lead to greater sustainability. Digitalization is driving an explosion in data volumes and with it an increase in the number of data centers that store and process this data. Information technology is currently responsible for almost four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, there is still scope for reducing emissions in IT. The digital association Bitkom predicts that a sustainable digital industry could save 64 million tonnes of CO2 in Germany alone.

How do we make the sovereign cloud green?

One thing is sure: companies that do not make a successful switch to climate-friendly technologies will not be able to compete in the future, as legal regulations are becoming stricter and stricter, and the expectations of end customers and investors are constantly increasing. Those who wish to develop into a data-driven company with the support of the cloud need a secure and sustainable cloud. Cloud providers that fail to offer sovereign and, at the same time, sustainable services in the next four to five years will soon cease to exist. I am sure of that. However, I also believe that the customers have a responsibility: a decision is only sovereign if you use the most energy-efficient services and data centers. This automatically steers digitalization in a more environmentally friendly direction.

Where does greenwashing end?

Studies have shown that large-scale data centers use energy more efficiently than smaller local data centers or server rooms. Nonetheless, they too must prove that they are sustainable: for this, we need guidelines that define what is meant by sustainable data centers, platforms, and operating models. There is a lot going on at the moment. The European Union's Green Deal aims for climate neutrality by 2050. CO2 pricing is constantly on the rise. The EU is promoting climate-friendly investments with the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive as well as the Taxonomy Regulation. Data centers are not immune to this: Numerous initiatives have been launched to date - from the "EU Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in Data Centres" to the "Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact". The EU climate plan "Fit for 55" aims to reduce CO2 emissions on the continent by at least 55 percent by 2030 and develop a sustainability index for data centers.

Certificates are just the beginning

Cloud providers are therefore under pressure to act. I see that as a good thing, as it will separate the wheat from the chaff. Those who are attempting to save themselves for the future by buying certificates have already lost. "Fit for 55" already poses the prospect of new KPIs, for example, for energy/resource consumption required for computing power. Analysts at Gartner estimate that the carbon footprint will be one of the most important criteria for the selection of cloud services by 2025 at the latest. Customers should therefore already be investing in solutions that promise sovereignty and sustainability in equal measure. This will help them avoid the risk of having to undertake another expensive and time-consuming cloud transformation in a few years' time and will improve the company's environmental footprint with the help of their IT.

On the way to net zero

Sovereignty alone is no longer enough. This is why providers have long been streamlining their data centers to be more sustainable: Google wants to meet all its energy needs in a CO2-neutral way by 2030, for example by using wind energy and geothermal energy. T-Systems has also set itself an ambitious goal of achieving a "Net-zero-energy data center": That is to say, a data center that, under optimal conditions, would no longer draw any energy from the public power grid and would be powered solely by carbon-neutral energy. In order to achieve this, we are collaborating with the Fraunhofer IFF in a research project at our data center in Biere in Saxony-Anhalt. We are analyzing and testing the use of photovoltaics, better cooling technology, heat recovery systems, and more efficient computers, as well as cooperating with wind power producers. We also signed up to the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact in 2021, which unites data center operators and trade associations committed to the European Green Deal.

Everything in green

Will the sovereign cloud become the dominant cloud landscape in the future? No, but it will enrich our multi-cloud landscapes. Companies will use them in cases where their data requires a particularly high level of security. Sustainable cloud services, however, are a completely different story. There is no way around them. They are becoming an indispensable prerequisite for future success. Not only will they rule the market, but they will not leave any more room for offers that are less careful with their resources. IT infrastructure be operated in a way that is both forward-thinking and environmentally friendly. Only then can it be competitive in the long run. If you are interested in Green IT and would like to know more about how companies can measure and reduce the carbon footprint of their cloud infrastructure, then take a look at my article on "Are digitalization and sustainability compatible?"

I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Write to me at: thomas.rumpf@t-systems.com

Sustainability and digitalization

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About the author
IM-Rumpf-Thomas

Thomas Rumpf

Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Managed Infrastructure Services, T-Systems International GmbH

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