Popular shopping events like ‘Singles Day’ has brought into focus how online high-traffic events can be made sustainable through green cloud practices. For the first time last year, Alibaba’s ’11.11’ event––the world’s largest shopping festival ran fully on the cloud. The deployment of 100% cloud-native technologies during the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival in 2021 reduced computing resources by 50% for every 10,000 transactions in comparison to previous years. The use of renewable energy in Alibaba’s Zhangbei County data center also helped reduce carbon emissions by over 26,000 tons, creating a more low-carbon society. To support the vast volume of internet traffic from these high-traffic events, the resilient and sustainable digital infrastructure provided by Alibaba Cloud and Equinix is essential towards the path of net-zero cloud computing.
There are many sound reasons for organizations to migrate their IT and infrastructure needs into a hybrid cloud environment. An increasingly important one lies in helping to meet a green agenda and deliver on environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. According to the latest 2022 Equinix Global Tech Trends Survey (GTTS), a survey of over 2,900 IT decision-makers worldwide, 74% of Asia-Pacific digital leaders acknowledged that sustainability is now one of their organization’s most important drivers and 75% mentioned that their organization has committed to Science-Based Targets or Net-Zero.
Putting applications into a hybrid cloud environment is a great carbon reducer. Research conducted by consulting firm Accenture has found that shifting workloads from on-premise enterprise data centers to the public cloud can cut an organization’s energy usage by 65% and reduce carbon emissions by more than 84%. At the same time, renewable energy investments of data centers also help enterprises green their IT infrastructure.
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Greening the data center
The toll on the environment has become a concern for both data center operators and governments, and action is being taken to address the issue with data center companies such as Equinix charting the course. We have been working to scale our use of renewable energy and improve data center design to reduce energy consumption. By 2021, Equinix had achieved 95% renewable energy coverage across its 240+ data centers globally. Its energy efficiency initiatives in 2021 amount to a reduction of 415,000 MWh in consumption on an annual basis.
Equinix is working towards a future for data centers everywhere that is clean and efficient. The facilities of tomorrow are being designed with sustainability and innovation in mind, incorporating things like an increased reliance on low-carbon energy, high-efficiency cooling, and circular economy principles that prioritize the reuse of waste heat, and the recycling of hardware.
For example, Equinix has implemented the use of fuel cells at a number of its data centers in the US. Power from fuel cells is generated through electrochemical reactions and is 20% to 35% cleaner than the marginal emissions rates for the regional grids where Equinix has deployed the technology. Fuel cells also produce significantly fewer particulate emissions than traditional gas-fueled power plants and consume no water for operation. Because fuel cells provide “always-on” 24/7 baseload power, they are complementary to the electricity grid and suited for balancing and reducing the use of coal and gas. This blended approach helps to offset overall grid emissions and provides Equinix energy security by reducing reliance on the power grid, while also removing transmission losses and maximizing efficiency. Additionally, all of the fuel cell technologies we have deployed are designed to be capable of accepting up to a 50% hydrogen blend “as is”. This positions Equinix well to be able to take advantage of the evolving hydrogen market into the future. Moving forward, Equinix expects to increase our deployments of fuel cells, taking pressure off the already stressed electricity grid.
Furthermore, to ensure accountability, Equinix is committed to achieving the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification or equivalent green building standards for all new constructions, as outlined in our policies. As of the end of 2021, data centers receiving green certifications in 2020 and 2021 totaled 1.1 million gross sq. ft.
With pioneering data center operators setting the pace with the building of new greener facilities, the industry must now follow. They will need to take note of three classes of emission: Scope 1 covering greenhouse gases that a company emits directly; Scope 2, which are indirect emissions, for example, energy bought to heat and cool buildings; and iii. Scope 3, those emissions not under the company’s control and therefore the trickiest area, since it encompasses the entire value chain including suppliers and partners. Managing these 3 scopes of emissions has been a key area of focus for the more progressive operators.
Cloud computing optimized for sustainability
As well as constructing new facilities with the environment in mind, there’s the parallel challenge of making sure that the compute power inside the facility is as green as possible. This demands cloud computing companies to put a focus on providing the best possible services to enterprise customers for the lowest environmental cost. Alibaba was the No. 3 IaaS public cloud provider worldwide for 2021 by revenue according to Gartner® research Being a world leader in IaaS, the company has been innovating its technologies to improve efficiencies in data centers, as well as making progress in the field of greener water cooling, wind cooling and its increased focus on the recycling of components.
Within Alibaba Cloud’s own infrastructure for data center cooling, the innovative “soaking servers” can reach a PUE as low as 1.09, a world-leading level. Besides soaking servers, water-cooling technologies in the company’s East China data center can reduce data center energy consumption by more than 80% as compared to traditional mechanical cooling. Apart from greener cooling technologies to reduce its Scope 2 emissions, the company has also increased its focus on the recycling of components: from April 2020 to March 2021, Alibaba Cloud’s computing resources equivalent to 1.5 million cores have been generated through reconfiguration and refurbishment of old servers.
It is accepted that deploying traditional CPUs at the core wastes a lot of processing power, which is inefficient. Helping to address this, are Cloud Infrastructure Processing Units (CIPU). Designed with performance improvements in networking, storage, security and computing power in mind, it works by offloading virtualization functions from servers to dedicated hardware. This new cloud infrastructure system is designed to power cloud-native data centers in the greenest way possible.
A new dawn for IaaS
Developments in IaaS frameworks are playing well with the environmental aspirations of digitally focused enterprises. IaaS is a great way for businesses to access the infrastructure they need on-demand from the cloud, saving the need to purchase and maintain complex hardware with all of its attendant cost implications and carbon overheads.
The latest IaaS developments are playing a key part here, working towards the greening of computing power. IaaS has really taken off as the cloud-native model becomes the primary architecture for modern workloads and the best way of achieving maximum compute power for the least energy. Gartner identified IaaS as having grown 41.4% in 2021, “the IaaS market continues to grow unabated as cloud-native becomes the primary architecture for modern workloads”.
Innovations like these from data centers and cloud computing companies are central to the greening of technology infrastructure to help organizations everywhere to progress digitalization plans and reduce costs. It is important to remember, though, that meeting ESG goals is about more than just deploying the right technology. Sustainability efforts also mean developing digital supply chains that answer environmental needs. Dealing with the tricky issue of Scope 3 emissions, for example, is all about assuming responsibility for an entire value chain, including suppliers and partners. As such, at Equinix, we believe it’s important to partner with like-minded organizations to advance environmental and climate change policies and accelerate action and innovation on key priorities such as renewable energy. This point is part of our robust, comprehensive, and thorough environmental commitments.
Anybody investing in IaaS efficiencies is contributing to global sustainability efforts and also helping digital supply chains to meet their green goals. Collaboration from end to end of these chains is essential. The cloud sector of the future will need to develop into an ecosystem of sustainable partners working together towards business and environmental success.
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