Redefining Computing for a Sustainable Tomorrow

MSys Marketing Mar 28 - 6 min read

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The cloud has transformed the landscape of computing, revolutionizing not just development practices but also reshaping business expenditure models. Yet, what often goes unnoticed is the significant role large cloud providers play in fostering sustainability within the computing ecosystem. They achieve this by employing strategies such as minimizing energy consumption, leveraging cleaner energy sources, and prioritizing sustainable design principles.

In this article, we’ll delve into the environmental benefits of transitioning to the cloud, examining how major cloud providers are leading the charge towards sustainability. We’ll explore how cloud adoption translates to increased energy efficiency, how these providers are equipped to prioritize eco-friendly practices, and how embracing the cloud can contribute to our businesses’ sustainability efforts.

Put simply, we’ll discuss how running our workloads on the cloud can result in greener computing practices.

The Challenge

With the 2015 Paris Accords setting the ambitious target of limiting global warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”, the urgency to address climate change has never been clearer. To achieve this goal, carbon emissions must be halved by 2030, presenting a formidable challenge with time swiftly ticking away.
However, as Bill Gates aptly stated, “It’s our power to invent that makes me optimistic.” In response to this challenge, organizations worldwide have rallied to set equally ambitious sustainability goals over the past seven years.

As the digital realm continues to expand, fueled by the increasing demand for software, compute workloads have surged year after year. So how have major cloud providers, including AWS, Azure, and GCP, utilized their vast economies of scale to ensure that their energy consumption doesn’t escalate proportionally?

What is PUE?

In the realm of data centers, energy consumption is a significant concern, with a substantial portion dedicated to powering servers and maintaining optimal temperatures. Efficiency improvements in these areas can yield disproportionately large reductions in overall energy usage.
Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) stands as a pivotal metric for assessing data center energy efficiency. It represents the ratio of total energy consumption to the energy required specifically for running IT equipment.
Expressed as a formula:

PUE = Total data center energy usage / Energy used to run IT equipment
As a data center enhances its efficiency, a greater proportion of its energy is directed towards powering servers, leading to a reduction in its PUE value, which ideally approaches 1.

Using Less Energy

The above chart illustrates a notable trend: despite significant increases in internet traffic and compute workloads, energy consumption in data centers has stabilized. This achievement can be attributed to two critical factors: the optimization of Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and enhanced infrastructure efficiency.

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Improving PUE Efficiency

Enhancing PUE efficiency is key for data centers. As of 2020, the global average PUE stands at 1.59. Notably, major cloud providers outperform this, achieving PUE ratios ranging between 1.06 and 1.2.
Cooling servers consumes significant electricity, an area where cloud providers excel in innovation and PUE optimization compared to the wider industry.

Google employs cutting-edge cooling methods, leveraging highly efficient evaporative cooling and outside air instead of mechanical chillers whenever feasible. Additionally, they’ve implemented machine learning models to forecast optimal cooling configurations, resulting in a noteworthy 40% reduction in energy consumption.
Similarly, Azure adopts comparable techniques such as direct evaporation cooling, moving away from traditional water-based systems like water-cooled chillers.

However, even among cloud providers, not all data centers are equal. Facilities situated in colder regions such as Sweden and Finland benefit from naturally cooler climates, thereby requiring less energy for cooling operations.

Enhancing Infrastructure Efficiency

Cloud providers have significantly improved resource utilization and energy efficiency through increased virtualization and improved capacity planning. Conversely, on-premise data centers often need to be overprovisioned to accommodate scalability.Transitioning to the cloud can lead to a 20-30% boost in energy efficiency for applications, a trend particularly pronounced with major cloud providers.

Google boasts delivering seven times the computing power with the same electricity consumption, showcasing remarkable efficiency gains.

Azure claims up to 93% greater energy efficiency compared to on-premises solutions.
AWS asserts being 3.6 times more energy efficient than the median of surveyed U.S. enterprise data centers and up to five times more efficient than typical EU enterprise infrastructure.

Advancements in Energy Sources

Google achieved carbon neutrality in 2007 and, from 2017 to 2020, matched 100% of its global electricity consumption with renewable energy purchases. By 2030, Google aims to operate on 24/7 carbon-free energy in all data center operations and office campuses, transitioning from emission offsetting to emission reduction and elimination.

Azure has been carbon neutral since 2012 and pledges to utilize 100% renewable energy by 2025 and achieve carbon negativity by 2030, removing more carbon annually than emitted by its data centers.
AWS commits to powering its data centers with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and has integrated “Sustainability” as the sixth pillar of its “Well-Architected Framework.” Amazon’s climate pledge aims for net-zero emissions across its business by 2040.

Creating Sustainable Designs

Within a linear economy, natural resources are transformed into products that ultimately end up as waste. Conversely, a circular economy strives to extend the lifespan of products, materials, and infrastructure, minimizing waste generation. The ultimate goal of a circular economy is to achieve zero waste.

Amazon is extending the lifespan of its servers and networking equipment to reduce operational costs, enhance sustainability, and improve efficiency.

Google prioritizes refurbishment in its server building process, aiming for a 90% global landfill diversion rate for data centers in 2019.

Microsoft has established “circular centers” to encourage the reuse and recycling of servers and hardware within its data centers, with plans to integrate these centers into existing facilities. Their target is to reuse 90% of designed servers by 2025, with Azure aiming for zero waste by 2030.


Major cloud providers are committed to fostering a sustainable future by taking comprehensive measures to reduce carbon emissions.

Meeting the Paris targets requires removing a billion metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2025 and even more annually thereafter. Continued adoption of cloud technology can significantly contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

While transitioning to the cloud offers abundant opportunities, it also introduces a risk of wasteful consumption. Adopting a more cost-conscious approach in the cloud can maximize sustainability benefits, as the most effective carbon emissions are those that are prevented entirely.

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