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UK government launches cloud sustainability probe

Government departments are being asked to provide information about the energy footprint of the cloud services they use

The government has launched an investigation that will seek to find out the energy footprint of the cloud services they use, Computer Weekly has learned.

A request was made to members and assessors of the sustainable technology advice and reporting group as part of the research around the next Greening government ICT annual report, to be published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in October.

Sent to the group formerly known as the Green Delivery Unit by its senior responsible officer, Defra’s chief digital information officer (CDIO) John Seglias, the letter aims to get specific departmental information about the energy footprint of cloud services.

In instances where detailing the cloud energy footprint is not possible – either partially or fully – the upcoming report will also aim to capture these reasons.

Members of the group are government departments such as the Cabinet Office, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice, NHS, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Met Office, HM Revenue and Customs, and others.

Government departments will then liaise with its various suppliers – for example, Defra would talk mainly to Microsoft about cloud-related issues, as well as other companies providing similar services to the department, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The sustainable technology advice and reporting group also works closely with techUK on a number of issues including cloud-related measures.

Progress has been reported by the government around the awareness and use of sustainable digital services and technologies, according to the latest Defra report on sustainability.

The annual report said departments across government have significantly reduced staff members’ individual energy footprints to 891KWh/staff from a baseline figure of 1467 KWh/staff.

Power consumption of servers showed the greatest reduction as systems moved to cloud or colocation providers, the report added, but all other categories increased.

There are wider concerns around energy consumption in the colocation market, with operators currently assessing how Brexit might affect the availability and cost of the power they need to run their facilities in future.

At the same time, the government is looking to address the tightening hold hyperscalers have on society and the economy. This will lead to greater measures to improve the sustainability of their operations this year, according to a report by datacentre think tank Uptime Institute.

“Any downside on privacy, on monopoly power, on energy use or carbon emissions, on employment practices, or on tax avoidance, had been largely downplayed. But the pendulum has swung,” the Uptime Institute report said.

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