When it comes to improving sustainability outcomes, virtually every part of the business has a role to play. Software engineers can design more sustainable applications. Cloud architects can embrace sustainable cloud models.
But perhaps no group plays as important a role in sustainability as the IT operations team. Because ITOps is in charge of which infrastructure the business uses and how that infrastructure is maintained, ITOps engineers are in a unique position to help organizations minimize the energy consumption and waste associated with their IT estates.
How, exactly, can they do that? Which practices should IT teams use to improve sustainability? Read on for answers to these questions as we look at five ways that ITOps can bolster sustainability initiatives.
1. Maximize Hardware Lifetime
No one wants a server to crash due to hardware failure, or the network to go down because a switch bit the dust. To guard against threats like these, ITOps teams tend to err on the side of replacing hardware sooner rather than later.
Besides being costly, that approach is also not environmentally friendly. The longer you keep hardware in use, the more efficient your hardware is from a sustainability perspective.
For that reason, ITOps teams would do well to avoid cycling out hardware based on an arbitrary schedule. Instead of replacing servers every three years to get ahead of potential hardware failure, for example, they should aim to replace servers only when there's a functional reason to do so – such as the server having insufficient resources to handle the workloads it needs to run, or signs that the hardware is actually failing.
There are, after all, great tools — like S.M.A.R.T. utilities — to help track hardware health. If you invest a little effort in checking up on your hardware, you may find that it doesn't have to be replaced as frequently.
2. Consolidate Hardware in the Cloud or Colo Centers
Sometimes, no matter how long you keep your on-premises hardware in service, it's more efficient from a sustainability perspective to replace it with cloud-based infrastructure, or to move it to a colocation facility.
In general, these settings allow you to reduce the amount of "dirty" energy required to run your workloads. There are several reasons why. One is simple economies of scale — it's more sustainable to run a lot of servers in one large data center than to spread them among many smaller data centers. Another is that cloud and colo providers can often source cleaner energy than you can get in your own data center or server room. Finally, the ability to share hardware between multiple customers delivers sustainability benefits.
3. Go Cloud-native
The more workloads you can fit on a single server, the greater your ability to operate those workloads sustainably.
That's one reason to embrace cloud-native technologies like containers. Because containers don't require virtualization hypervisors, they reduce the amount of overhead resources required to run each application. The result is the ability to host more applications on the same server than you could if you used virtual machines. Containers also consume less energy overall, another boon for sustainability versus non-cloud-native workloads.
The same trend holds true, in general, for other cloud-native technologies, like serverless functions, which can also help IT teams run more software with a lower total energy consumption and infrastructure footprint.
4. Support Remote Work
The main reasons why most IT teams have been expected to support remote workforces over the past few years have involved business priorities such as greater employee flexibility.
But there's a sustainability imperative for remote work, too. By delivering the services and resources that employees need to work remotely, IT teams can help businesses achieve major reductions in the energy consumption required to power full-time offices. Enabling employees to avoid commutes helps on the sustainability front, too.
So, if you need to justify continued investment in IT services and tools to support remote work, consider making the case that remote work is not just good for business in many cases, but also good for the environment.
5. Scale Back On-Prem Resources
At the same time that ITOps teams work to enable remote work models, they should be looking for opportunities to scale back on on-prem resources. They may not need as many workstations, printers, file servers, and so on running on-site when a majority of employees work off-site. Turning off these resources is a great way to save energy — not to mention cut costs and reduce the amount of maintenance and management work that the IT team has to perform.
From maximizing the lifetime of servers, to choosing the most energy-efficient hosting strategies, to supporting remote work and beyond, IT teams play a leading role in helping businesses achieve sustainability goals. As a bonus, many of these practices also save money and simplify ITOps processes. It's a win-win-win.
About the authorChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.