This article is part of our Essential Guide: IT services and managed services guide

Outsourcing IT and cloud models serve as carbon emission escape routes

Grab the opportunity to offload data centre carbon emissions with cloud models and through outsourcing IT functions, our expert suggests.

Data centres are increasingly seen as sub-optimised environments with their low systems utilisation marks, high functional redundancy and over engineering that has led to massive energy needs that are unpredictable on a short-term basis. All that’s known for sure is that energy bills will keep going up.

Organisations are figuring out that data centres are now a major issue for them with regards to their overall carbon emissions, and governments are seeing data centres as soft targets when it comes to “saving the planet.” In last year’s series of articles, Quocirca looked at the impact of carbon emissions legislation, but there are ways to avoid at least the worst excesses of such laws.

Energy savings from outsourcing

Depending on the type of organisation, a data centre can account for up to 40% of its energy use, so anything that minimises that number has to be a good thing. And this is where the cloud and outsourcing IT comes in. To calculate its energy usage, a company must report only on what is directly under its own control. When IT functions are powered and managed by an external facility and are outside the organisation’s control, then there’s no need to report the energy used in providing the function. True, the facility owner will have to report and pay for the emissions, but that’s a different story.

Therefore, if a data centre is rated as a 1 megawatt facility and even 10% of that can be outsourced to an external facility, then an immediate 100 KW of corporate energy usage has been transferred to someone else’s books.

This makes for an effective way of managing an organisation’s carbon emissions. In essence, very little change is made in how the organisation carries out its business, but its technical functions are run in a third-party facility. The third party must report on the energy usage.

 But what if the third-party facility passes the costs on to its customer? Then, the payments to cover the carbon emissions would just become a standard operational expenditure for the outsourcing facility.

What is far more likely, however, is that a well-chosen cloud service provider will have a more energy-efficient environment, will be able to provide economies of scale, have better contracts in place with energy providers and will have a far better environment than the customers could have on their own. Therefore, the customer is able to offload a degree of its emissions to a third party, the third party is able to minimise its emissions in a far more effective manner, and a more sustainable overall model is created.

The capability to remove a proportion of an organisation’s measured emissions may well be short-lived, because it’s highly likely that governments will rapidly see that plugging such a loophole is financially favourable for them; keeping all emissions within an overall “dirty” organisation means more taxes than seeing a proportion of emissions rolled into a far “cleaner” service provider. Perhaps additional rules will be put in place forcing organisations to obtain details from third parties as to what emissions should be assigned to their own usage. As cloud computing increases its share of the market, this could make for some interesting calculations.

Overall, outsourcing IT can offer a more sustainable platform model and provide business, economic and sustainable benefits for an organisation. While it’s possible, being able to make the most of outsourcing IT and minimising any liability for carbon emissions makes good sense. Just don’t leave the opportunity too late – governments may make it harder to gain any benefits once they see how such loopholes can be used.

Clive Longbottom is a Service Director at UK analyst Quocirca Ltd and a contributor to


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