IT departments can move toward sustainability with net zero data centers and improving the public cloud

Reducing emissions and consumption are key priorities for IT leaders, based on new research from Gartner.

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Image: iStock/EtiAmmos

As the G7 Summit wraps up—with the achievement of a decarbonized electric sector and the emphasis toward solar, wind and renewable energy agreed-upon goals—the vision of a green future is gaining momentum. Beyond the political arena, the movement toward net zero can also be seen in the C-suite, as business leaders understand the importance of taking action to curb climate change. A recent Gartner CEO survey, for instance, shows that about half of CEOs see climate change as having a major impact on their business.

According to Gartner analyst Tiny Haynes, there are many factors that can help IT leaders achieve a sustainable future. "The idea of simply using renewable energy is not sustainable in its entirety," he said. "It's certainly a big contribution to sustainability but it's not a totally sustainable approach." Instead, Haynes advocates that these goals need to be part of organization-wide efforts. The pandemic forced organizations to look at sustainability, he said, and has provided incentives to go green.

Where you can really get a big bang for your buck, he said, is in materials recycling and utilization.

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When Gartner surveyed IT leaders 10 years ago, there was some pushback to sustainability efforts. "There's always this game where you see the technology about 10 years before you see the adoption," Haynes said. While there was work to improve efficiency at data centers—in areas such as hot-on or cold-on configurations to regulate temperature—it wasn't "high up on the agenda," Haynes said. "People always thought green was nice to have, but it was choosing the color of your data center as opposed to being real key to your operation," he said. Co-location costs were also high, and so were migration costs, and investing may not have made sense in the short term, unless you waited three to five years, Haynes said.

Now, however, legislation to reduce emissions and tax incentives is helping drive change. The Biden administration has committed to reducing carbon and greenhouse gas by 50%-52%, for instance. COVID-19 has had an undeniable impact on sustainability efforts. In a recent Gartner survey, 69% of the respondents said they would increase their investment in the public cloud due to the pandemic, he said. "COVID has given us a surprise of a lifetime," Haynes said. "The fact that people are now using that initiative to talk about sustainability in a more positive way has been really refreshing."

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Another new development—as adoption of the cloud has become part of the primary vocabulary for CEOs looking to invest in digital transformation, more leaders have realized the importance of investing in data centers. This offers a host of ways to improve sustainability. According to Haynes, there are "efficiencies in hyper-scale."

"An Amazon data center will be far more efficient as it's so much bigger than maybe a smaller data center you have on-premise," he said. "You get the economies of scale and efficiencies on that side of things."

For data center migration, Haynes recommends moving your data center to a place where you can use sustainable electricity and free air cooling. "Some people can't move data centers because of things like data residency," he said. "But it takes six to nine months to migrate. If we have this year an announcement say like we have in the U.K., 10% carbon tax, people are wanting to move as fast as they possibly can. This is what we need to be thinking about now," he added.

COVID-19 hasn't been all good for sustainability, however. While it's sped some things up, cash flow management is a great concern. And businesses will need to invest in data center migration, which can be costly.

So to motivate IT leaders, Haynes sees the importance of stressing the financial benefits of going green. "What the CEO and the C-suite think about is cost, revenue and risk," he said. "Is there a way that you can reduce cost so that there are financial incentives? Is there a way that you can maximize revenues? Having a positive message, which resonates and therefore being seen as a green organization."

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