The Sustainability Argument For Smarter Cloud Cost Management

Jason Yaeger
March 21, 2022
5 min read
Nobody likes paying too much money for their cloud infrastructure. At Tenacity, we work with cloud-hosted organizations around the world to cut down on their cloud expenditure all while flagging cybersecurity risks — making your cloud footprint cheaper, safer, and greener.

Cutting down on unnecessary AWS and Azure expenditure by spinning down unused compute instances and upgrading to more cost-effective storage classes is one way to have more capital left to play around with and to improve the efficiency of your public cloud hosted business. 

But one benefit of streamlining cloud footprints that seldom gets mentioned is that doing so is also a win for the environment. 

And with today’s heightened focus on sustainability (according to statistics, more than 90% of S&P 500 companies now voluntarily report ESG data), there’s never been a better time to ensure that your cloud infrastructure is not only secure and cost-effective, but also as sustainable as possible. Thankfully, moving your data to the cloud is already the first step in the right direction, as AWS and Azure data centers are far more energy-efficient than running your own data center, thanks to the shared and comprehensive efficiency programs these facilities run. However, there are still steps you can take to be even more efficient once you're in the cloud.

How Polluting Is The Cloud Anyway?

But just how much pollution are cloud computing resources — especially unoptimized ones — responsible for anyway? The answer may surprise you. 

Technology, as we know, is evolving at a dizzying pace. While public cloud infrastructure has made it easier than ever before for organizations to have access to externally-managed supercomputer-level resources (and those capabilities have been extensively leveraged in the form of growing applications like big data processing, AI, and ML), equally, all that computing power comes at a cost - one which the environment currently pays for.

According to data reported in the Financial Times, tech-related emissions are now growing at 6% year-on-year. What’s equally worrisome is that that figure may only represent a fraction of the true pollution that tech organizations — or those using cloud technology — are responsible for.

While environmental, governance, and social (ESG) reporting aims to make it easier for all stakeholders to get a handle on a company’s impacts, there’s one problem: for the most part, it’s currently optional and companies don’t need to submit their data for audit unless they choose to. However, as societal pressures to increase transparency mount, and the deadline to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approaches, this situation is likely to change. 

Recent research from the University of Munich suggests that the submitted data which tech companies are reporting may be an under-estimate of their true carbon footprint. As demands step up for ESG reporting to move from “nice to have” to “everybody needs to do it - and objectively” it’s likely that soon such selective reporting will no longer be possible.

How Bad Is The Cloud For The Environment?

With almost every company now using public cloud resources in some guise or another, it’s likely that that cloud usage itself is a major driver of this environmental footprint. 

Storage and compute are two essential components of cloud infrastructure and even more sophisticated cloud resources - like Kubernetes orchestrators - are derivatives of these fundamental building blocks of computing. 

Naturally, electricity is needed to keep servers spinning, data centers cool, and to provision new (physical) storage from the supply chain. And all that adds up to emissions. According to estimates published in Stanford Magazine, storing 100GB of data in your average public cloud infrastructure provider can be directly tied to the release of 0.2 tons of CO2 (based on the US grid emission factor).

When considered like this, spinning down unused EC2 instances does more than just lower your AWS bill. By keeping fewer instances spinning and reducing power consumption at AWS’ data centers, you’re directly helping to lower the carbon footprint which your organization is indirectly generating. 

Be Part Of The Change For Good

None of these facts have evaded the attention of the major public cloud providers. 

Google has recently launched a sustainability module that brings core carbon reporting functionalities to its AI-powered Active Assist feature, which helps identify unnecessary cloud usage and correlates that to a carbon footprint so users can see how simple changes to resource utilization can directly lower their negative impact upon the planet. AWS has also followed suit with its own customer carbon footprinting tool which provides detailed reporting on users’ estimated carbon emissions. However, taking this data and trying to use it to decide where you can right-size or decommission resources across your cloud environment remains a complicated task.

Image below: From AWS’s product announcement blog. Check usage permissions!

Microsoft, in turn, has offered its customers the Microsoft Sustainability Calculator offering similar reporting to Azure customers. 

Optimize Your Cloud’s Footprint

For those who want to take these reports and apply them to actions that will make a difference in their cloud carbon footprint, Tenacity provides powerful and granular cloud utilization reporting. The remediation recommendations we present can help you optimize and streamline your cloud resources, and you can see the immediate feedback of these changes through the major cloud providers’ sustainability calculators above.

Specifically, within the Tenacity platform, users can identify the extent of their current cloud usage, allowing them top-level visibility into current resource usage. This kind of top line visibility is a useful metric to have when preparing ESG reporting on the organization’s global environmental footprint - and its inputs. With cloud computing increasingly being recognized as a contributor to environmental challenges, Tenacity provides users the ability to quickly analyze their main usage in public cloud environments. 

Additionally, users can identify underutilized resources without having to dive through vendors’ complex reporting dashboards. For companies operating across multiple clouds, centralizing this reporting can be invaluable. With the public cloud firmly established as being more environmentally friendly than on-premises computing, the quickest means to minimizing its carbon footprint, for users, is typically resource optimization. Tenacity centralizes this invaluable reporting allowing for quick and effective decision-making. 

And to top it off, Tenacity users can also can deep-dive into the company’s cloud footprint, flagging underutilized or overprovisioned resources and taking appropriate action. Our platform makes it easy to drill down into individual component units rather than looking at resource usage in blocks.

Remember: what’s optional today may be mandatory tomorrow. While we already know that cloud computing is much more environmentally friendly than on-premises computing, optimizing your cloud resources with Tenacity can not only make your public cloud cheaper and more secure - but also greener. 

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