Cloud as the Key to Sustainability
This blog post focuses on how moving to cloud has the potential help deliver improved sustainability performance- as long as enterprises are realistic and focused on a clear, achievable strategy.
January 16, 2023
NTT DATA Technology Foresight acts as a compass, observing the current state of businesses that achieve continued growth through the maximum utilization of IT. In this article, Hiroshi Tomiyasu takes us through the NTT DATA Technology Foresight 2023.
Speaker Profile: Hiroshi Tomiyasu, General Manager of the NTT DATA Technology Innovation Division, is responsible for formulating R&D strategies, developing new technology offerings, and applying its IT assets to support the company and its clients globally. With a deep experience and expertise in software engineering and the development of platform technologies, he has led teams to deliver high-value outcomes and help clients transform their businesses.
This article is adapted from a sharing by Hiroshi Tomiyasu.
Will the cloud solve everything?
The great majority of large enterprises have either moved most of their data and applications to the cloud or are in the process of doing so. It's an inevitable move and we think it is both natural and necessary. Yet those same enterprises are also discovering that it is not always easy and does not provide an instant answer to sustainability problems. Cloud is not necessarily "green": how can it be? Cloud services are delivered by the same IT and communications infrastructure as before, and data farms are heavy users of energy and major emitters of CO2.
In some ways, cloud makes current problems with energy use and emissions worse. Paper transactions are now digital, and it is becoming easier to use, store and retrieve exponentially larger quantities of data through use of visual images, video, high resolution graphics. The volume of data being stored and accessed is climbing at an unstoppable rate, while the number of transactions also grows. The need for processing power and storage capacity seems to increase almost endlessly, whether the infrastructure is in house or in the cloud.
Just as moving to cloud does not immediately cut your costs, therefore, it will not immediately make your business more environmentally friendly. And yet, cloud can provide a catalyst for positive change, if the transformational potential it offers is used to deliver two achievable benefits: first, by making your own IT greener, and second, by using IT to make the entire business greener.
So how does that work?
How does sustainability work in practice?
We need to understand the terminology of environmental performance clearly, because terms such as "green" and "sustainability" are not precisely the same or interchangeable. This can be a complex subject so let's limit ourselves to three key terms:
- Sustainability, which means the ability of an enterprise, organisation or society to operate in a way that ensures long-term viability. That covers not only environmental requirements (not depleting natural resources at a higher rate than the planet can supply), but it also covers social and governance issues (fairness to all, strictly operating within the law, full compliance…)
- Green, focusing on all actions related to environmental health. That means reducing carbon emissions, cutting pollution, eliminating waste through recycling and reuse, managing every aspect of business life, from transport fleets to logistics to supply chains and beyond…
- Decarbonization, which is the most ambitious level of economic management, when organizations of different kinds can demonstrate ways in which they can not only reduce emissions, but actually take steps to remove carbon from the wider environment.
All these activities are now capable of accurate measurement. Corporate managements are being asked to align with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and use CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies to track and improve internal performance. Investors use ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) measurements to assess the suitability of businesses for investment.
Finally, the UN Scope 1 to 4 approach creates a "sliding scale" of carbon emissions measurements, ranging from internal operations (Scope 1) to direct suppliers (Scope 2), then the entire value chain (Scope 3) and finally, in the near future, measuring reductions to emissions made by changes to operations (Scope 4).
At first sight this new environmental landscape can seem complex but it contains one great truth: sustainable policies and working practices are good for business. Cutting energy use saves money. Cutting wastage does the same. The complexities of sustainable management should not underestimated, but the rewards are huge and make a direct contribution to competitive advantage.
Greening your IT with cloud
We've seen that, although cloud does not automatically make your business greener, it does create the conditions in which you can rethink your IT infrastructures, investments and operations, leading to the potential for major efficiency savings and reduced emissions. So how does it work?
First, you no longer have vendor lock-in, which means you can take advantage of every new concept, new technology, new method that drives efficiencies and improves environmental performance. Technologies, toolsets and methods are increasingly optimised for environmental performance, and you can benefit from these pretty much as soon as they appear.
Second, cloud architectures are becoming more sustainable, as we move from a model based on a series of interconnected datacentres to a new approach, based on intelligent networks, enabled by low latency connections through 5G, with Edge devices providing distributed intelligence and automation. In the cloud, individual businesses profit from the general updates and enhancements that new technology delivers. Reduced emissions, lower energy usage and improved profitability should be a natural outcome of this approach.
Third, and perhaps the most important change of all, cloud makes it easier to adopt a platform based, composable approach. We expect to see more and more businesses stop "reinventing the wheel" by instead moving to fast, collaborative development on specialised platforms. This will make a huge contribution to speed, efficiency and quality, with co-development leading to reuse of proven components, while modelling and testing in production environments will make new services more robust and profitable from day one. In sustainability terms, this will be a dramatic and positive change.
Fourth, applications are becoming greener, thanks to the take-up of low and no code options, an approach closely linked to composability. High maintenance applications, requiring plenty of energy and human maintenance are gradually being replaced by cloud-optimised apps, which use less energy by design. This will have a transformational impact on the way that IT infrastructures and operations work in large organisations.
It is possible to make your own IT far "greener" than before, using less energy, fewer natural resources and causing far lower levels of carbon emissions and pollution. This is a major change for the better. The next question is: how can enhanced, greener IT be used to drive better sustainability performance across the entire enterprise and its wider ecosystem? That is the topic for the third and final blog in this series.