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The Positive Effect of Cloud Computing on Climate Change and Decarbonization

When you imagine the major contributors to climate change, what comes to mind? Maybe a 20-inch-rimmed gas-guzzling SUV, a smoke-stack-laden building with black clouds spiraling out, or a drainage pipe snaking its way from a factory to dump pollutants into a waterway. These are tangible images and textbook examples we’ve come to associate with planetary harm.

One place that doesn’t usually come to mind is a data center. There, within the unassuming walls of a nondescript building, hundreds of servers hum away without a smoke cloud in sight. Because data centers aren’t spewing out emissions, many don’t realize the energy reliance they have.

It’s true that data centers form the backbone of our constantly connected lives. When we store hundreds of emails, check the weather, stream shows, scroll an app or do one of hundreds of other everyday Internet-reliant tasks, historically, the burden of the exchange has fallen to racks and racks of data center servers, which rely on fossil fuels.

An EY-Parthenon study detailing digitalization and its drive to decarbonization says, in the five-year period between 2017 and 2022 global data traffic is expected to triple to around 400 billion gigabytes per month, or the equivalent needed to store 100 billion DVDs. Since the early 2000s, many have looked at current data center energy consumption trends and extrapolated the energy usage numbers over the coming years to project the future impacts, according to the New York Times, predicting a bleak future where data centers grew into major polluters to keep up with demand.

But the daunting numbers and predictions of fossil-fuel-guzzling data centers isn’t a point that’s been lost on operators or other IT solutions providers tasked with creating a sustainable future for constant connectivity. Talk of greening data centers has long been a hot topic among network managers.

Recent reporting from the New York Times that quotes a Science journal study sheds light on how data centers have largely been saved from becoming the energy hogs they were predicted to be thanks to one big, airy idea: the cloud.

A Greener Solution in the Cloud

According to the study, even though data center output increased sixfold between 2010 and 2018, energy consumption only grew by 6%, due largely to cloud computing. Back in 2010, an estimated 79% of computing was done in traditional data centers, but by 2018, 89% of computing happened in cloud data centers, the New York Times article states.

Worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services is forecast to grow 18.4% in 2021 to $304.9 billion total, up from $257.5 billion in 2020, according to Gartner.

This digital transformation is proving to be a big driver of decarbonization, or the reduction of carbon dioxide from energy sources. According to global leaders, decarbonization is the only way to avoid disastrous climate change.

To that end, the Paris Agreement, a commitment by 195 nations to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keep the average temperature rise this century to below 2 degrees Celsius, is the framework guiding governments toward a greener future.

Many companies are joining the cause, including Maven Wave’s key partner, Google Cloud, and our parent company, Atos, to significantly move the needle on decarbonization in the cloud computing space.

Google first achieved carbon neutrality in 2007, and since 2017, the company has purchased enough solar and wind energy to match 100% of its global electricity consumption. Now Google is building on that progress to target a new sustainability goal: running its business on carbon-free energy 24/7, everywhere, by 2030. Learn more about Google’s sustainability goal here.

An Atos Commitment

In February 2021, Atos announced an ambitious decarbonization plan to reach net zero by 2028, and to reduce the global carbon emissions under its control by 50% by 2025. The commitment puts Atos 22 years ahead of the 2050 Paris Agreement target to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Atos has seen major success with its previous decarbonization targets. In 2020, the group reduced its global carbon emissions by 15% (from 3.3 million to 2.8 million tons of carbon dioxide), of which 10% was caused by structural improvement in addition to the effects of COVID-19.

The decarbonization commitments show how Atos continues its leadership in the fight against climate change and prove its apt rank as #1 in the digital sector worldwide by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

To meet its goals, Atos’ decarbonization efforts are focused in four key areas:

  • Real estate: optimization of office space and energy consumption across all regions, with significant efforts to adopt decarbonized energy. This has materialized into a 34% decrease of global CO2 emissions of Atos offices in 2020 vs. 2019 (19% excluding the Covid-19 effect), with an accelerated switch to carbon-free and renewable energy, powering 44% of all Atos offices in 2020 (versus 25% in 2019);
  • Data centers: improved energy efficiency materializing into a 15% decrease of global energy consumption of Atos data centers in 2020 vs. 2019 and a switch to carbon-free and renewable energy, which now powers 55% of all Atos data centers in 2020 (versus 32% in 2019);
  • Supply chain: introduction of systematic decarbonization criteria for the Atos supply chain, which has already led to significant gains (e.g. a 10% reduction in the energy consumption of all new PCs). Atos was listed among the top 7% of companies assessed for supplier engagement on climate change in the 2020 CDP Supplier Engagement Leaderboard;
  • Products & solutions: Atos continuously improves the energy efficiency of its products, illustrated by the release in 2020 of the #1 greenest machine among the top 100 largest supercomputers in the world, provided to the Jülich Supercomputing Centre in Germany.

“Reaching number one position within our industry worldwide reflects the level of our engagement as a socially responsible company, according to our statement of purpose. We will continue to leverage our own sustainable journey to support our clients towards decarbonization, security and digital inclusion, bringing benefits to all,” said Elie Girard, Atos CEO.

At Maven Wave, the dedication Atos has shown to decarbonization through digitalization has inspired how we help companies create sustainable cloud infrastructures. Whenever we partner with a client, we’re doing our part not only to develop reliable, scalable cloud strategies for companies, but also ones that create a more sustainable digital future for everyone as we push closer and closer to net zero emissions.

To learn more about Atos’ decarbonization efforts, click here.

April 22nd, 2021

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