In an era when increasing numbers of consumers say that sustainability is a key consideration when evaluating businesses, finding ways to advance sustainability initiatives is top of mind for many companies.
If you're a business that still runs some applications in a legacy data center, one of the simplest ways to act on sustainability is also one of the most cost-effective: migrating your applications to the cloud.
Although sustainability is not usually the main reason why enterprise cloud migrations occur — instead, considerations like improved agility and higher availability tend to motivate cloud migration — it may as well be. In a variety of ways, the simple act of moving to the cloud can dramatically improve the sustainability of enterprise IT operations.
To prove the point, let's discuss five main ways that cloud migration advances sustainability.
1. The Cloud Uses Less Energy Overall
In a majority of cases, data centers operated by major cloud providers are more energy-efficient than those that businesses manage themselves. Microsoft Azure, for instance, reports that its data centers are on average 93% more energy-efficient than on-prem alternatives.
The main reason why is economies of scale. A cloud provider fits tens of thousands of servers into a single data center and uses shared power and cooling systems to support them. That's much more efficient than running just a few thousand servers, which is the maximum number you'd encounter in most private data centers.
On a per-server basis, energy consumption rates in the cloud will almost always be lower than those of your own data center, simply because the auxiliary systems required to support those services are more efficient as they scale up.
2. Cloud Energy Is Greener
Cloud providers are also more likely to be able to source energy from clean sources, like wind or solar, than private enterprises can.
To be sure, you could go out and try to source clean energy for your on-prem data center. But unless you have the purchasing clout of companies like Amazon or Google, you're unlikely to be able to obtain such energy as cheaply or reliably as the major cloud providers can. The fact that many cloud data centers are located in rural areas, where wind and solar power are easier to find, makes "green" cloud energy even easier to source.
3. Cloud Workloads Scale More Efficiently
Another sustainability advantage of enterprise cloud migration is that in the cloud, your workloads can scale more efficiently.
Cloud-based virtual machines can be shut down in minutes when you no longer need them — a feat that is harder to achieve with energy-hungry on-prem servers. You can also use autoscaling policies to manage infrastructure capacity automatically and ensure that you run only as many servers as your workloads actually require — and that you don't waste energy powering infrastructure that you don't need.
4. Cloud Services Are More Efficient
In addition to using techniques like autoscaling to manage cloud infrastructure efficiently, the cloud provides access to types of services that are inherently more efficient than on-premises alternatives.
For example, in the cloud, you can run some workloads using serverless functions as a service via a platform like AWS Lambda. Because serverless functions run on-demand on shared servers, rather than requiring an always-on host server that is dedicated just to them, they can dramatically reduce the overall energy consumption of your applications.
Technically speaking, it's possible to set up solutions like serverless functions on-prem. But doing so is relatively complex, and you're not likely to save as much energy because you'd still have to operate servers continuously to host your serverless functions. That's not the case in the cloud, where serverless computing is much more efficient because the functions are hosted on servers shared by thousands of users.
5. Repurpose Your Data Center Facility
Migrating to the cloud gives you the freedom to do something more valuable with your physical data center space than running servers that are inefficient compared to cloud-based alternatives.
You could, for instance, repurpose your data center facility as office space. Or, if you want to be ambitious, you could set up a vertical farm.
Either way, repurposing your former data center facility following a cloud migration allows you to avoid having to construct new physical space — and the energy and carbon waste that goes with it — to meet evolving business needs.
Conclusion: Better for the Environment — and Your Business
Again, migrating to the cloud offers many advantages beyond sustainability. It also increases agility, and in many cases it will save you money, too.
But because sustainability doesn't feature on traditional lists of reasons to move to the cloud, it's worth considering how migrating enterprise workloads into cloud data centers can benefit your business from a sustainability angle, among other benefits.
Jake Echanove is the Senior Vice President of Solution Architecture at Lemongrass.