Cloud Computing Giants Expand Environmentally Sustainable IT Battleground

C. Drake

Summary Bullets:

  • Demonstrating a genuine and broad commitment to environmentally sustainable IT has become a major new competitive battleground for cloud computing giants Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services.
  • Some cloud providers, notably Microsoft, are now extending existing commitments to new areas, including helping customers with their own environmental sustainability objectives.

Demonstrating a genuine and broad commitment to environmentally sustainable IT has become a major new competitive battleground for cloud computing giants Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services (AWS). All three companies are already committed to improved energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy within their international network of data centers – even if those goals have not yet been fully realized. However, that commitment is now being extended to new areas, including the ability to help customers with their own sustainability objectives. This will open up a whole new competitive battleground between these leading cloud companies.

Between them, Google, Microsoft, and AWS account for around two-thirds of all cloud-based digital workloads, including everything from digital applications and services to databases and enterprise software. They support these workloads via massive, globally distributed data centers, which offer computing processing capabilities as well as data storage and a wide range of other services. Furthermore, with demand for data center resources on the rise – driven by the growing use of things such as high-definition video, the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data – AWS, Microsoft, and Google are investing considerable resources in developing new data centers and expanding existing ones. As a result, all three are under mounting pressure to show that they take their environmental responsibilities seriously.

Data centers are massive consumers of electricity – currently thought to account for 2% of total global consumption but expected by some to rise to 8% by 2030. And as the demand for data center capacity and the energy it requires increases, AWS, Microsoft, and other cloud providers are eager to show that the design, operations, and power consumption of their data centers are all environmentally sustainable. Google, for example, which claimed to have achieved 100% energy efficiency in 2017 – a figure that includes its cloud data centers – is currently investing USD 3.3 billion in expanding its data center footprint in Europe, emphasizing that all of its new data centers will run entirely on renewable energy. Microsoft, which is building new data centers in Arizona, Qatar, and Israel, expects all its cloud data centers to run on renewable energy sources by 2025. AWS currently lags behind Microsoft and Google in terms of data center energy sustainability. Although AWS claimed to have achieved its 50% renewable energy target in 2018, this level includes renewable energy certificates (RECs), which AWS uses to offset its carbon emissions.

AWS remains, by far, the world’s largest provider of cloud infrastructure and services. However, Microsoft and Google are intent on catching up with their larger rival, and environmental sustainability has become a major competitive priority for both. Microsoft, for example, is turning its attention to helping customers meet their own sustainability targets. Microsoft recently unveiled a new tool that is designed to help customers and partners succeed with their environmental sustainability targets, particularly in relation to carbon emissions. The Microsoft Sustainability Calculator provides customers of Microsoft’s Azure cloud services business with insights into the carbon emissions associated with the digital content, data, and applications they run on servers located in Microsoft Azure cloud data centers. This allows them to more effectively assess the environmental impact of their IT resources and make any necessary adjustments.

Going forward, expect to see more initiatives like this as AWS, Microsoft, Google, and other large cloud companies strive to win the confidence of customers, partners, and governments and to show that they are committed to upholding environmental standards. The environment will be a key battleground in the sustainability wars to come.

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