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Is Software as a Service (SaaS) a sustainable option?

You might have spotted that Elon Musk made a remark recently about his use of Bitcoins as a form of payment for a Teslas. This news sent the Bitcoin stock plummeting. Unsurprisingly, Elon got harsh feedback from some quarters on the back of cryptocurrency devaluations. His tweet said that “Cryptocurrency cannot come at great cost to the environment”.

So what is the problem? Bitcoin mining burns huge amounts of carbon fuels. Cryptocurrencies depend on blockchain technology and globally distributed ledgers, powered by globally distributed computers. The University of Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF), which studies cryptocurrencies, says that 66% of Bitcoins energy use comes from fossil fuels.  

It is heartening to see how the planet’s sustainability is now influencing decisions like this. Or more cynicallythere are other less generous interpretations flying about the interweb right now. Maybe it’s a bit of both. 

Either way, and bringing this back closer to home, it prompted me to start thinking about our own efforts around decarbonisation, the environment and sustainability. 

At TSG we work with customers to transform their legacy on-premise data centres and applications to the public cloud using Microsoft SaaS. We have observed considerable interest in this recently as businesses have taken the strategic decision to retire their dusty computer rooms and phone systems and move them to the cloud. But does this make sense environmentally and is it sustainable? 

When you boil it down, the public cloud is essentially a massive, large-scale, concentrated hyperscale hypervisor which is multi-tenanted where compute resources, including energy consumption and cooling, are shared across customers. In plain language, that translates to a very big shared computer. There is an economy of scale here which results in optimised energy consumption and lower costs through a shared model 

See the source image

Running your own on-premise server rooms doesn’t makes sense when you think about it. You run your own on-premise servers, storage and cooling, and this equipment is powered up all the time but only really utilised Monday-Friday 8-8 which represents a mere 36% of the entire week. In addition, you’ve got the costs to maintain it and the challenge of recruiting the right people to look after it. On-premise computer rooms had a role ten years ago, but that is no longer the case with the maturity of SaaSified phone systems and servers. 

We are burning cash and literally burning fossil fuels the other 64% of the time where we are powering our legacy on-premise environment when there is little or no demand for it. That does not make any sense at allThere is the expression about picking low hanging fruit which could not be more apt when you take a few steps back from the current situation. 

On premise data centres 

 

Total 

Working hours 

Out of Hours (WASTE!) 

 

Mon-Fri 8AM-8PM 

Mon-Fri 8PM-8AM Sat/Sun 

 

130 days per year 

235 days per year 

 

36% of the time 

64% of the time 

 

£64,800 p.a running costs on average  (Note 1) 

£115,200 p.a running costs on average  

(Note 1) 

180K pa 

36 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Note 2) 

64 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Note 2) 

100 tonnes CO2 

Equivalent to powering 23.4 homes for a year or 1,800 trees (Note 3) 

Equivalent to powering 41.6 homes for a year or 3,200 trees (Note 3) 

Power 65 homes or 5,000 trees for an entire year. 

(Note 1) 1K per server per month TCO * 10 servers + switches and storage 180k total running costs pa 
(Note 2) 6 tonnes of CO2 per Dell 2U rack server * 10 plus storage and switches total 100 tonnes pa (Researchgate.net) 
(Note 3) 1 tonne of CO2 is the equivalent to 0.65 annual electrical housing consumption per year or 50 trees grown for one year according to https://www.climateneutralgroup.com/ 

The table above demonstrates compelling reasons as to why we should consider cloud migrations from a sustainability and an environmental point of view. With some sensible sizing, the financial case and environmental case is clear cutThe public cloud undeniably has got to form a fundamental part of your environmental strategy, value for money plan, decarbonisation net-zero plans, business resilience planning, disaster recovery and cyber security strategy. Microsoft Azure has been carbon neutral since 2012 and has even started to run submersed underwater data centres primarily for the cooling benefits! 

Working from Home 

The last year or so has established home working and home offices. There has naturally been an increased dependence on technology to support this. Homeworking obviously has huge environmental and personal benefits by keeping cars off the road and planes out of the sky. Air pollution has certainly eased a little according to most reports. This is clearly offset to an extent by the increased energy consumption we are seeing at home domestically, but the sustainability and environmental benefits overall will continue to be substantialeven with a partial migration of people back to the office as Covid releases its grip. 

Working from home and hybrid arrangements raises some serious questions about security and sustainability which require some deep thinking and strong policy formulation.  

However, some good tips to get you started if you have not done this already are: 

Edit your Power Plan to turn off your display automatically and put the computer to sleep after 10 minutes of idle time. Make sure your power plan is optimised or balanced’ rather than ‘high-performance’This tiny little tweak will make a huge difference to your power consumption especially at home if you communicate this across your entire business and 100s of colleagues! Also, it will save you money as well as protecting the environment. Make sure you have a good look at the green dual fuel tariffs next time you renew. 

 

Secondlyit is a good idea to check your organisation’s environmental policy and arrangements for WEEE compliant disposal of old computer equipment. WEEE stands for Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment. It is essential that your disposal of old IT kit complies with this regulation so that the equipment does not end up in landfill. Ask some awkward questions and unpick what your organisation does to dispose of unwanted kit. 

  • How confident are you that your old monitors don’t end up in landfill?

  • Have you considered moving your vehicle fleet over to electric?

  • Do you have a plan for this?

  • Have you evaluated the costs and benefits and environmental impact and discussed this at Board/Exec?

  • Do you have electrical charging points installed for colleagues or customers to use free of charge?

  • Have you considered how you can maximise your environmental impact through your employees and across your suppliers?

  • Do your working practices and expectations of staff promote sustainability considerations?

  • Do you put contractual or tender obligations in place to extend your sustainability policy across your entire supply chain to maximise your influence through your spending power? (This is worth considering perhaps if this incentivises green behaviours across your base of employees and across your supply chain.)

  • Do you insist on suppliers having ISO14001 and an Environment Management Plan to qualify to participate in your tenders?

  • Do you know how much energy you use to run your servers, storage, cooling and switches?

  • Is the power management on your end user devices properly configured?

  • When you purchase computer equipment, is low level power consumption part of your selection criteria?

  • Do you have a plan to reduce this over time with clear and transparent targets that are visible by the Board?

  • Do you have an appointed Board member who owns these targets, leads on this subject and who champions a sustainability portfolio?

There are sustainability benefits of cloud first digital strategy, now is the time to lock in those cashable and non-cashable benefits into your planning so that the business cases fully embody sustainability considerations. 

These basic tips above could help kick start your sustainability programme or promote some discussion especially if you roll them out across your entire businessautomate them and enshrine positive environmental impact in Board sanctioned policy. 

ISO14001Decarbonisation, net-zero and your carbon footprint 

It is enormously refreshing to see that clients are calling for the ISO14001 certification. ISO14001 is a suite of practical tools, policies and standards that enable you to implement an effective environmental management system. If your organisation is not already familiar with ISO14001, then I strongly recommend considering it and looking into it 

Even if you do not pursufull certification then simply following documented best practice is a great place to start. Certification, however, does provide external source of assurance to the Board and demonstrates to external stakeholders that you live your policy commitments and meet a mature standard. 

ISO14001 is becoming the tool of choice for business to help them manage environmental issues within their strategic planning framework. It calls for a clear environment strategy that is fully backed by strong leadership. ISO14001 aims to protect the environmentconserve resources while regulating demand to maximise environmental benefits with clearly agreed performance targets and metrics. It encourages you to take a lifecycle perspective considering the acquisition, utilisation and disposal of assets that affect the environment. It encourages you to move from paper to digital and embrace the cloud. 

ISO14001 is a solid place for organisations that are considering what their strategic journey to net zero looks like.  2050 seems like a long way off, new builds are one thing but retrofit existing homes will prove to be the biggest and most expensive challenge we face. 

What next? 

Decarbonisation and net zero often starts with a discussion around asset management. Clearly existing property based assets will feature strongly but we would suggest that there is an opportunity to widen out the sustainability conversation within the context of an overarching environmental management system. 

We are seeing some great developments recently. For example, various Heads of Sustainability are being appointed across leading HAs and one G15 organisation recently issued its first £250M sustainability bond. This is extremely positive and encouraging. 

At TSG we are committed to continuously improving our own environmental impact and social value. We cannot do this alone though as we recognise that we have the opportunity to work with our clients and business partners together to achieve more together. 

If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, then please contact me rob.fletcher@tsg.com