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Lean and green: five steps to improve your business and carbon health
Wed, 7th Feb 2024

While a number of high-profile airlines are the latest brands to recently face accusations of greenwashing, organisations from other sectors are also facing up to the idea that there are no short-cuts to NetZero. Tackling carbon emissions directly and not relying on offsetting is clearly the only way to go. The reason for this is not just reputational risk reduction but actual energy savings at a time when the market is volatile and those costs are unpredictable.

At the beginning of the year, a Forrester analyst said that sustainability will become “a strategic imperative” in 2023, with emphasis on greater carbon reporting transparency but also reduced air travel. How true that is turning out to be, but understanding where to start and where significant gains can be made quickly is tricky.

Decision-making is often open to influence and interpretation from various stakeholders, leading to a certain degree of inertia ahead of changes being made. The will, at least, is there. As an EY report revealed earlier this year, CEOs are keen to embrace ESG initiatives regardless of economic pressures, so having a strategy for change, making quick wins but also implementing longer-term measures is important.

This is where digital sobriety comes in, a policy towards digital use and waste that every organisation should be employing. To that end, we have identified five steps towards saving costs and reducing carbon emissions that should be at the heart of every digital sobriety strategy.

Measure to manage

The respected business saying reminds us that “if it’s not measured, it cannot be managed”. In the same way, finance departments measure and report on the cost of everything; IT departments need to measure and report on the impact of equipment and data in terms of energy consumption and carbon emissions.

For most organisations, this is relatively new territory, but through understanding impacts from data centres (for private cloud), public cloud services and end-user devices, for example, IT teams can start to build pictures of consumption and excess. With the energy from the data centre made up of the energy consumed at the rack (servers/storage) and from cooling, it’s possible to see how viable particular cloud services are in terms of cost and emissions.

Clean up your digital waste

Unused or rarely used data is a big offender when it comes to unnecessary energy use. Often referred to as ‘dark data’, this is quite often data for single-use functions, cumulated, held on a server and soaking up resources. Think of old IoT data, emails, replicated photos, documents from cloud storage, hidden files and so on. This type of data is unstructured data which is very hard to organise in traditional databases. This data is commonly stored on very expensive tier-one storage arrays, which consume high amounts of energy, and the data does not deliver any value to the business. Emails may be needed for compliance or legal reasons, in which case they could be moved to ‘colder’ storage technologies.

Think before you store

Having gone through a clean-up of digital waste, organisations will have a better idea of which data should be stored, archived or deleted. This will help shape policies on storage, enabling employees to delete certain files and communications on a regular basis. This should avoid unnecessary build-up of unwanted data.

Given that up to 65% of data is never used and 15% is out of date, according to Digital Decarbonisation, creating data-aware habits can only help an organisation in its pursuit of reducing costs and emissions. 

Automate storage tiering

Many customers today are running storage on disk arrays with SSD, as well as NVME storage (hot tier), so when the storage is cold and is not being accessed or may not have been touched for six months or longer, having a way to optimise the data could see significant savings. Automated storage tiering is where software intelligently moves volumes between storage tiers to minimise costs and carbon impact, as well as improve overall performance and throughput.

With the increased use of multiple clouds, an increasingly AI-driven approach to managing storage will enable organisations to reap the scalability and cost-effective benefits of cloud services, regardless of location. 

Modernise IT infrastructure 

Using a software-defined approach to IT is the way forward in delivering and managing increasingly complex and diverse systems. As well as enabling a single view of data regardless of location, a software or platform approach can enable organisations to address infrastructure challenges, which add to costs and carbon emissions.

Almost certainly, the biggest reductions in carbon impacts will come from data centre modernisation. A platform approach to infrastructure should enable organisations to automatically optimise the consumption of IT resources. With more data centres (co-location or public cloud providers) looking to adopt liquid cooling, which is already proving a more effective and sustainable cooling method than air cooling, organisations can realise more savings.

We’ll not pretend that striving to be net zero will be easy; there will be hurdles en route, of course. But the five steps outlined above should at least provide some guidance on the direction to follow on the path to realising a legitimately more sustainable future.