This is a guest post in the Computer Weekly ‘Circular IT’ series written by Melar Chen in her role as product marketing manager at HashiCorp – a company known for its modular DevOps infrastructure provisioning and management products.
Chen writes as follows…
In a circular economy, the focus is on processes and activities that are restorative and regenerative. The cloud would seem to fit squarely into that model, but many companies today are wasting the cloud model’s potential to maintain its highest efficiency.
The circular economy movement is gaining momentum, especially as more and more organisations commit to a focus on sustainability.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “Virtually all of the world’s largest companies now issue a sustainability report and set goals; more than 2,000 companies have set a science-based carbon target; and about one-third of Europe’s largest public companies have pledged to reach net-zero by 2050.”
When we think about IT products, a linear, rather than circular, model often comes to mind. Indeed, less than a quarter of all U.S. electronic waste is recycled, according to a United Nations estimate.
The cloud has the potential to change that: By sharing services over a network among multiple users, computing power is increased and environmental damage is decreased. According to Accenture research, public cloud migrations can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 59 million tons per year, which is the equivalent of having 22 million fewer cars on the road.
Key to the cloud’s environmental benefits is its ability to be scaled up and down depending on need.
When organisations require more computing power they can easily scale up. When organisations require less computing power they can easily scale down. Cloud resources can be ephemeral in nature, delivering a specific user experience around a campaign or event and then going away when no longer needed.
But, do they?
How often are resources left running when not in use? Further, just how often are unneeded, excessive resources created?
Herein lies the circular economy rub when it comes to cloud computing: waste.
The shame of wasted cloud
Sustainability calculations assume that companies are using only the cloud computing resources they need, but that is not always the case. In fact, research shows that up to 35% of cloud costs are wasted due to limited visibility and tracking of cloud resources and difficulty in enforcing best practices.
That’s a minimum of $5 million wasted every day on idle and over-provisioned resources.
These unnecessary cloud costs manifest from (among other things):
- Idle resources, over-provisioning and orphaned resources
- Decreased productivity among developers and IT staff
- Increased risk to the organisation
Cloud waste will surely increase as cloud usage continues to increase – up 40.7% in 2020 alone, according to Gartner.
Let’s fix cloud wastage
But there are many things organisations can do to manage cloud waste and move along the path to a circular economy, including:
- Implement an Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) model: The IaC model enables organisations to provision and manage infrastructure with configuration files, rather than through disparate workflows. That makes it easier to collaboratively build, change, and delete infrastructure in a safe, consistent and repeatable way.
- Apply Policies-as-Code (PaC): The ability to create policies as code and automatic enforcement during the provisioning workflow ensures that best practices and security policies are not being violated.
- Use estimations and audit logs: Estimations and audit logs help organisations understand the cost implications of new or changed infrastructure before it is provisioned and applied.
- Implement self-service infrastructure: A self-service infrastructure eliminates bottlenecks, enabling developers to provision their own resources, reuse vetted modules, and collaborate to increase efficiency.
The Harvard Business Reviews notes that creating a circular business model is challenging and that taking the wrong approach can be expensive.
With that said, working toward a circular business model can benefit individual businesses and the world at large. Reducing cloud waste – especially as cloud usage inevitably increases – will require focused effort across the organisation, along with tools that prioritise automation, agility, visibility, compliance, and governance.