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What to look for in a green cloud storage provider

Alongside cost and flexibility, a commitment to sustainability is a key consideration for organizations trying to choose a cloud storage provider.

Cloud storage provides flexible storage capacity and enables users to regularly verify that their data and systems are available and secure. Just as importantly, cloud storage helps organizations reduce their data center footprint and energy costs.

Cloud storage vendors take steps of their own to reduce their environmental impact. When evaluating vendors, ask about their policies and initiatives related to green data storage facilities.

What makes a cloud storage provider green?

Several important criteria characterize a green cloud data center, and, by extension, green storage capabilities. Keep these factors in mind to assess how green a cloud storage provider is:

Energy efficiency and sustainability. Ensure the cloud storage provider regularly tracks metrics such as power usage effectiveness, and has documented plans and timeframes to become carbon-negative.

Use of renewable energy. Some cloud storage providers use wind and solar power as sources of renewable energy. Cloud vendors should use eco-friendly power sources, and contract with power generation utilities to supply green energy. They can own and manage renewable energy sources or obtain them through contracts with renewable energy providers.

Eco-friendly data center buildings. The design and construction of cloud data centers should conform to current specifications for energy-efficient building construction. Older buildings may be retrofitted and upgraded to improve their energy efficiency.

HVAC management. Vendors should carefully monitor equipment and employee work areas for energy usage, temperature, humidity and heat load, which is a byproduct of energy consumption. They should monitor data storage hardware and data centers to optimize operational conditions. Also consider the local climate and compliance with local, state and federal regulations. Check that the cloud vendor uses technology to monitor the above environmental conditions.

Eco-friendly data destruction. Once data storage devices and media reach the end of their service life, the next step is to destroy them. Cloud vendors should use eco-friendly techniques to perform this task, whether in-house or using third-party data destruction services. Demonstrated compliance with National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-88, "Guidelines for Media Sanitization," is advisable for properly destroying data and the media it is stored on.

Infrastructure energy efficiency. Data centers typically use commercial power and telecommunications resources from utility companies. Cloud vendors should have policies and procedures to assess the eco-friendliness of their utility providers. They should also ensure they have access to low-cost energy and reliable telecommunications infrastructure sources to maximize energy efficiency.

Support for green standards and mandates. In addition to green specifications for building design, energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, examine which other green initiatives a cloud provider supports. One example of a major initiative is the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, which aims to make European data centers climate-neutral by 2030. The initiative supports the European Green Deal, intended to have all of Europe climate-neutral by 2050.

Green commitments of AWS, Azure and Google Cloud

Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google have all taken steps to reduce the carbon footprints of their hundreds of data centers worldwide. Each has expressed a commitment to sustainability, clean energy and energy efficiency.

Amazon intends to power its global infrastructure and operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025. In 2021, AWS -- alongside Google -- joined in the creation of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. Also in 2021, AWS launched its Clean Energy Accelerator program to assist clean energy-focused startups with their energy and environmental initiatives.

Microsoft said Azure has been carbon-neutral since 2012, and aims to supply all its data centers with 100% renewable energy by 2025. The company plans to be carbon-negative by 2030 and expects to remove all carbon created by its energy usage by 2050.

Google said its cloud platform has been carbon-neutral since 2007, and that it achieved total use of renewable energy in 2017. The company intends to have carbon-neutral data centers by 2030, and recently offered a service -- the Carbon Sense suite -- for users to examine and assess their carbon footprints and overall carbon emissions. Google said in 2019 it diverted almost 100% of data center operations waste away from landfills.

Microsoft, Google and Amazon all comply with NIST SP 800-88 for media sanitization.

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