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Government IT hosting providers fail to provide emissions data

Cloud computing is driving the government’s IT and sustainable tech strategy, but cloud and hosting providers are unable to divulge emissions data

The Sustainable Technology Annual Report 2018-2019 from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has revealed that just one cloud hosting company was able to provide it with an accurate figure for carbon emissions.

The report noted that the ICT estate on government property has become more energy efficient as departments have moved into service provisions driven by cloud-first and digital policies.

Defra acknowledged this in the executive summary of the report, stating: “The energy impact of government ICT has moved from not just government estates, but to those of our service providers. This is also true when you consider the ICT waste and social impacts from the service provisions.”

To take hosting and cloud services into account, Defra said it issued a formal request to all government hosting suppliers as part of the annual reporting by each individual department. However, it said only one supplier, which provides hosting services for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was able to provide any specific data relating to the carbon or energy footprint in a cloud hosting environment.

“The remainder pointed us towards company strategies and papers,” the report said. “We are continuing to work with suppliers, industry, academia and professional bodies to develop advice and guidance on how best to account for our footprint in the services we consume. It is vital that we can accurately demonstrate how ICT is enabling wider sustainability goals, and to do that we need an accurate footprint.”

Defra said that, for the 2020 report, it will continue to push government hosting providers to provide an accurate estimate on their carbon emissions. Defra said this information is necessary to establish a true carbon footprint for government ICT as it moves towards a new baseline and a new strategy for 2020 to 2025.

Network footprint

Defra also noted that a number of departments reported larger energy and carbon footprints on their IT estates this year than in 2018. The report found that changes to the way carbon emissions are reported highlighted the size of the legacy footprint of government departments, as well as their cloud and industry hosting footprint.

“It is vital that we can accurately demonstrate how ICT is enabling wider sustainability goals, and to do that we need an accurate footprint”
Defra’s Sustainable Technology report

While servers account for the largest volume of carbon emissions (56%) across government departments, the report raised questions over how equipment carbon emissions are accounted for.

For instance, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is one department whose energy footprint grew considerably, due to taking into account hidden legacy IT resources that had not previously been accounted for in earlier sustainability reports.

Defra said the MoD had a large number of network components whose energy consumption represented a significant increase over previous years. These network components had previously been classified as “enabling” technologies rather than part of IT delivery. This “hidden” infrastructure has not yet been fully documented, so there are potentially further additions to be made in future years.

Given that 48% of the MoD’s ICT carbon emissions comes from network equipment, the Defra sustainability report questioned the value of concentrating purely on the servers used in government.

“The real energy cost of supplying a service to the MoD is actually in the network components and office and user devices,” the report stated.

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