How to shape your cloud adoption strategy while building more sustainable IT

By Adrian Bradley, Head of Cloud Transformation, KPMG

With enterprises under pressure from investors and other stakeholders to improve the way ESG is governed and managed (and even reported to regulators), they are having to take a long hard look at their current IT infrastructure and consider ways to make it more sustainable.

This isn’t a straightforward task: digital technologies have even surpassed the aerospace industry in terms of carbon emissions. While aviation’s share of global CO2 emissions is estimated to be around 2.5%, almost 4% of all CO2 emissions can now be attributed to IT infrastructure.

As companies ramp up their decarbonisation efforts, they will need to reassure customers, employees, investors, and regulators that verifiable progress is being made toward their goals. They will need to document, with high fidelity, auditable data provided by a climate accounting infrastructure, and their progress toward meeting their low-carbon footprint commitments, including how they plan to adjust their IT infrastructure to be more environmentally friendly.

But gathering this data and measuring sustainability for the IT infrastructure can be complex. It requires:

· Emission visibility: An understanding of how the architecture and product choices, married with volume of consumption, increase emissions.

· Decision enablement: Visibility is worthless unless it’s linked to decisions on where IT workloads are located. These decisions span from strategic hosting choices taken at scale, infrequently, to small-scale workload placement decisions made often by junior engineers.

· Appropriate skills: Re-skilling architects and engineers who historically have not understood the correlation between their architecture decisions and carbon footprint.

· Central management platforms: The ability to collect data from an assortment of places in your estate and deliver technical interventions (preferably in an automated fashion) across your estate. Without this, insight is not actionable because it’s too expensive and impractical to implement.

Once the environmental impact of the enterprise’s infrastructure is established, it is then possible to shape your cloud adoption strategy and build more sustainable IT – which could actually also be more cost efficient. Companies are still looking at climate-related strategies as a cost and have not determined how decarbonisation can save money and generate revenue. It’s time for this attitude to change.

The first step is to ensure visibility across the entire IT estate, including data centres and cloud environments, and collate data from all these areas into one dashboard. Once this is achieved it is possible to analyse the sustainability impact of different operational scenarios, as well as their cost, risk profile and how much effort will be needed to produce them.

Another benefit of bringing all this data together into one dashboard is that it provides a means to view current consumption and target state across all major cloud service providers. Equipped with this evidence, IT teams can make more informed decisions about workload placement, and understand the impact on carbon emissions as a factor in making decisions.

By incorporating ESG data about your IT estate, such as the emission output of data centres being used, it is then far easier to compare where you are with where you want or need to be. Having this comparison provides a foundation for an actionable roadmap to meet sustainability goals. There is

also the ability to scenario plan – i.e., what the impact will be if you switch cloud provider or use another data centre – and then adjust cloud migration accordingly.

Enterprises must understand that ESG is no longer a siloed concept but a value that needs to be embedded in a company’s entire strategy and operations, including the cloud. This is not only for them to hit enforced climate targets, but to safeguard the future of their organisation and workforce.

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