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How to shrink your IT carbon footprint and why it matters

Organizations are shifting IT priorities toward efficient resource consumption. Learn how strategies prioritizing sustainability can enhance a company's competitive advantage.

Enterprise technology accounts for approximately 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to McKinsey's "The green IT revolution: A blueprint for CIOs to combat climate change."

That might seem insignificant, but it's equivalent to the U.K.'s entire carbon footprint, according to the Global Carbon Atlas.

The good news is that enterprises no longer have to choose between sustainability and profitability. By implementing the right data lifecycle management (DLM) strategy and prioritizing the efficient allocation of resources, IT leaders can create more energy-efficient operations that contribute to organization-wide sustainability goals.

What does IT sustainability mean today?

IT sustainability isn't a new concept, but priorities have shifted alongside organizations' adoption of cloud services and changing data consumption habits. As enterprises transitioned from hardware-centric to software-centric infrastructures, IT sustainability initiatives followed suit.

Efforts to improve energy efficiency now also focus on data sprawl, that is, the uncontrolled and dispersed growth of data, and other forms of consumption, not just physical resources like data centers.

The accessibility of data storage is also driving this shift in priorities. While storage used to be costly, it's increasingly affordable. Many organizations save historical data that's no longer needed out of an abundance of caution, further inflating energy usage.

While areas for IT sustainability improvements are clear, several challenges stand in the way such as the following:

  • It can be difficult to quantify the amount of energy an organization uses, especially in the cloud.
  • AI and machine learning solutions use significant amounts of power, but many consider them to be necessary for most modern businesses.
  • Business leaders often resist deleting historical data.

Overcoming these challenges requires reformulated policies around data retention, the careful selection of enterprise technologies and the efficient development of software and applications.

3 initiatives to consider that support IT sustainability

Modern IT sustainability initiatives aim to reduce energy consumption, improve resource efficiency and encourage responsible software development. By embracing these measures, your organization stands to gain not only significant environmental benefits, but also cost reductions and increased profitability. Here are some suggestions on how to do that.

1. Rethink your DLM strategy

Data lifecycle management refers to the process of governing data from creation to deletion, ensuring it's always available, secure and compliant. Ineffective DLM contributes to increased energy usage and can make it difficult to access data. As you develop or refine your DLM framework, consider how you can incorporate more sustainable practices into each of its phases, including the following:

  • Data collection. A more sustainable approach DLM starts with the data itself. Make sure you're only collecting and storing high-quality data. Use energy-efficient methods of data collection, like automated sensors in IoT devices. You can also minimize the collection of redundant or unnecessary data to reduce storage and processing power.
  • Data storage and management. Consider leveraging strategies like data deduplication and compression to store data in the cloud more efficiently. Many cloud providers also offer storage lifecycle management services that automatically store data based on how frequently you use it.
  • Using and sharing data. Only provide data access to users who require the information to do their jobs. For example, your marketing department might require access to customer purchasing behavior data, but they likely don't need access to individual customer records with payment information.
  • Archiving data. When data isn't quite at the end of its life, you might need to store it for regulatory or reporting purposes. For a more sustainable archiving approach, consider implementing tactics like hierarchical storage management (HSM). HSM is a policy-based data management process that allows you to store less frequently accessed data on less accessible -- but more energy-efficient -- storage media.
  • Data warehousing. Purpose-built architecture is crucial in sustainable and efficient data warehousing. Thoughtfully designed data warehouses enable you to access your data in a single repository without added costs or energy consumption. By using analytics tools, you can also minimize processing needs and avoid storing redundant data.
  • Data destruction. Your data retention policies should account for legal and industry requirements. But you can also manage data to avoid storing it once it's no longer relevant.

2. Prioritize concise applications

IT sustainability is no longer just about an organization's resource consumption. It's also about creating efficient and effective applications, which is only possible when you align your team members' skills with their tasks and adopt a scalable approach to application architecture.

For example, a well-designed microservice-based application is far more efficient than a traditional on-premises or mainframe-backed service. That's because it can effectively use compute, network and storage resources based on real-time application workloads, which is especially beneficial at scale. This approach can help your organization create applications that are clearly defined, concise and easy to understand -- a top priority for modern IT sustainability.

3. Consider sustainability in your hardware selection and use

Despite the shift to the cloud, you can make a positive impact on IT sustainability by selecting the right hardware and using technology with a "green" mindset. For example, if your organization still relies on a physical data center, consider best practices to minimize energy consumption, like automating controls for lights and removing servers that are using energy but aren't actively computing data.

You can also look for energy-efficient products that are certified by groups like TCO Certified, a third-party company that evaluates IT products for environmental and social impact. These practices can help reduce your carbon footprint, but it's also worthwhile to consider how difficult it's becoming to build and manage efficient data centers. As you evaluate your IT sustainability strategy, consider whether you are optimizing energy usage and resource allocation in your infrastructure -- and whether it's useful to continue building and investing in.

Harness IT sustainability for greater efficiency and profitability

The importance of IT sustainability cannot be overstated in achieving high-level organizational emissions reduction goals. And it's becoming increasingly clear that sustainability is linked to improved efficiency and profitability for IT leaders and their teams.

The sooner you start transitioning toward more sustainable IT solutions and operations, the better off your organization will be -- in terms of reducing your carbon footprint and improving your bottom line.

About the author
George Burns III is a Cloud Operations Consultant and Architect at SPR, a technology modernization firm based in Chicago. He has over 20 years of experience in information technology, networking and cloud infrastructure, and holds multiple certifications, including AWS Solutions Architect Associate - Professional.

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