The green future of work

By Prashant Ketkar, Chief Technology and Product Officer, Corel.

The past two years have seen huge changes in priorities for both people and businesses alike. Covid-19 shook the bucket in a big way, and people took the opportunity to reflect on some everyday institutions that were becoming obsolete. Workers that were forced to operate from their own home had plenty of time to re-evaluate what actually matters to them, which has resulted in a positive shift towards a more balanced culture.



Sustainability has been a core value in that shift: around 40% of the British public reveal they are now more aware of the amount of electricity they use in their home due to the lockdowns. For businesses, it has become important to reflect that cultural shift in the way business is conducted. It has become more important to integrate sustainable practices in order to appeal to more conscientious and environmentally aware consumer and employee communities. Over half (53%) of the UK’s workforce say sustainability is an important factor in deciding which company to work for. Corporate sustainability efforts have thus increased dramatically over the past two decades, with 80% of companies worldwide now reporting on their sustainability efforts.



Green IT, Cloud and zombies


One of the most important ways a business can ‘go green’, is by reducing their energy consumption. Overall, the IT sector accounted for 5-15% of global energy consumption in 2020, which makes it a major target area for green initiatives to focus on. IT is still a rapidly growing sector, and IT related energy demands are expected to nearly double by 2030.


One of the key strategies that businesses can use to optimise their energy usage is undertaking a data migration to cloud servers. In March 2021, a news forecast concluded that the continued adoption of cloud computing could prevent the emission of more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from 2021 through 2024. One of the major factors that reduces overall CO2 emissions in regards to cloud migration is that cloud servers are better optimised and more efficient overall than local hardware. Power capacity management, cooling, distributing data to the most power efficient servers and increasing server utilisation are all incremental ways of reducing overall power consumption.


Server utilisation is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to inefficient energy usage. Even when idle, servers can still use up to 50% of their rated power, meaning that on standby, physical servers still consume significant amounts of energy. Underutilisation of servers can also create “zombie servers,” which run with no visibility or external communications and contribute no useful function or computing resources. Around 30% of physical servers in data centres are considered zombie servers and estimates suggest that there are over 10 million zombie servers worldwide. The energy waste from these systems is equivalent to the electricity generated by eight major power plants. Unused and underutilised servers also take up significant physical space in a data centre, increasing IT energy costs through the cooling requirements to protect this heat-generating equipment.


Virtualisation to work at maximum capacity


Many organisations deploy servers that run only at a fraction of their capacities, often because they want to dedicate such systems to a specific application. This is highly inefficient because it results in an excess capacity that doesn’t get consumed, leading to higher energy consumption and operating costs.


Businesses can instead lean on virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to bolster sustainable initiatives. Virtualisation technologies make more efficient use of available resources, including energy. By installing a virtual infrastructure, organisations can enable multiple operating systems and applications to run on fewer servers. This reduces overall energy use, cooling requirements, server sprawl and storage requirements.


Will remote working eventually just become ‘working’?


One of the most tangible lasting effects of the pandemic has been the shift away from working in the office to working from home. Establishing a functioning work-from-home model was essential during the first period of lockdown to maintain economic activity and workers have gotten comfortable living without the everyday commute to the office. 77% of remote workers say they are more productive whilst working from home, and 75% work from home because there are less distractions.


The shift away from office work will eventually allow businesses to reconsider whether they even need an office space at all, or if they want to move completely online. Reducing office space requirements not only reduces the overhead energy costs from lighting, heating and air conditioning, but also reduces the amount of CO2 emitted when employees commute to and from the office. Remote workers often rely on VDI to connect employees to desktops, applications and services typically only accessible within the office. These virtual workspaces allow users to connect digitally to both resources and co-workers, regardless of their location or device used.

Business strategies in the next few years will likely have a significant focus on adapting to a low-carbon economy in order to remain successful. There is a growing awareness that businesses must control and minimise their environmental impact to reflect the idea that people and corporations are stewards of the environment rather than an authority of it.

The pandemic has caused a massive push towards a more sustainable way of living to deal with the threat that climate change poses. The pressures of being forced to work from home have likely changed attitudes towards remote working permanently, and with that a whole host of new opportunities to minimise the environmental impact that working causes have opened up.

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