Cloud networking sustainability strategies yield benefits

As enterprises seek ways to reduce their environmental footprints, one popular way is to migrate on-premises networking infrastructure to third-party CSPs.

The cloud can almost do it all. But the cloud is more than a way to access corporate resources. It can also help organizations achieve their goals around green and sustainable technology.

Cloud networking sustainability strategies minimize energy consumption and help reduce a company's overall carbon footprint -- especially compared with a typical on-premises infrastructure.

What is network sustainability?

IT systems, and networking in particular, consume vast amounts of energy. The internet, for example, relies on hundreds of data centers worldwide, in addition to myriad switching centers. All this infrastructure is necessary to connect businesses and consumers to websites, wireless services and each other.

Major cloud service providers (CSPs), such as AWS, Microsoft and Google, use significant amounts of energy, as do telecom carriers powering their switching offices and network data centers. But the electricity needed to power these systems comes at an environmental cost: Even as utilities generate this power, they release tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The challenge, then, is how major service providers can continue to function as they take steps to protect the environment. They do this by deploying energy-efficient and eco-friendly infrastructure elements wherever possible.

Enterprises face the same challenge as they focus on green technology and sustainability measures to limit the environmental effects of their switching and routing devices.

What is cloud network sustainability?

Organizations that transfer their IT infrastructure to an external CSP rely on the provider's ability to stay operational. But users must prepare for risks and costs associated with cloud-based IT services.

Figure 1 depicts a typical configuration where an organization and its data center connect to multiple network services.

Image that depicts how an organization and its data center connect to multiple network services.
Figure 1. In a typical enterprise network infrastructure, an organization connects to network services through its data center.

All networking services connect through a local telephone company or non-telecom service provider. The company must have sustainability practices and procedures in place to minimize its carbon footprint and energy usage.

By contrast, Figure 2 depicts an all-cloud configuration where the provider delivers networking services. The provider might deliver services via wireless connections or through a telecom provider, but all networking technology resides within the cloud.

Diagram of an all-cloud networking architecture.
Figure 2. In an all-cloud networking configuration, CSPs deliver networking services through a wireless connection or telecom provider.

When all or most networking resources reside in the cloud, it becomes less of an issue to focus on sustainability and manage an environmentally friendly infrastructure. Sustainability benefits of a cloud network infrastructure include the following:

  • Cuts energy consumed by on-premises networks.
  • Reduces the number of power-hungry devices.
  • Enables remote work.

Cuts energy consumed by on-premises networks

As CSPs realize they use significant amounts of energy, many plan to reduce their dependence on energy provided by fossil fuels. As a result, this decreases the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

One way to reduce energy consumption is through the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, geothermal and wind. Enterprise customers, meanwhile, no longer have to maintain their own on-premises systems. The need for the enterprise data center might no longer exist.

Reduces the number of power-hungry devices

Enterprises can reduce their need to purchase networking components by migrating their in-house systems to those operated by external CSPs. Endpoint devices remain on-site, but enterprises can use energy-efficient components to reduce their power consumption.

Enables remote work

When networking resides in the cloud, employees can access resources from any location, which, in turn, enables remote work. Remote work minimizes commuting and reduces travel-created emissions. In addition, remote work reduces the prevalence of energy-inefficient office equipment, HVAC systems, lighting and security systems.

Many businesses, however, have asked employees to transition from mostly remote to in-office schedules. Even with employees in the office less frequently, employers who adopt a hybrid approach must account for energy needed for equipment to support workers when they come into the office.

Businesses might want to consider a hybrid arrangement approach, with mission-critical systems located on-site and less critical assets located in a cloud.

Caveats to all-cloud networking

While enterprises might consider transitioning networking systems to a cloud platform, particularly from environment and sustainability perspectives, they face some risks with handing over networking resources to a CSP.

Caveats to all-cloud networking include the following:

  • It might be expensive to adopt an all-cloud infrastructure, so CIOs need to review the associated costs carefully.
  • It might not be practical to move networking services to a third party.
  • CSPs could limit access to company networking resources.
  • If a CSP has a technology outage, a business could lose its networking resources and potentially compromise its resiliency and reputation.
  • CSPs handle systems and data security, which could expose a business to cyberattacks.
  • CSP employees who manage enterprise resources might be unknown to users or might change frequently.
  • User resources, especially data and apps, might reside across multiple cloud data centers.

Businesses might want to consider a hybrid arrangement approach, with mission-critical systems located on-site and less critical assets located in a cloud. From a sustainability perspective, this approach might enable users to strike a balance as they rely on cloud services in a configuration that benefits the business and remains eco-friendly.

Advances in technology give users many options to manage their technology requirements. A cloud networking sustainability strategy can yield important environmental benefits to users, but the organization should still consider its business needs.

Paul Kirvan is an independent consultant, IT auditor, technical writer, editor and educator. He has more than 25 years of experience in business continuity, disaster recovery, security, enterprise risk management, telecom and IT auditing.

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