The power behind the compute

Information technology has been in the spotlight recently due to increasing energy use and concern about carbon emissions. But enterprise IT can be made more efficient, and it can even be a part of the solution

André Gravato, head of technology, Ardanis: ‘There is a shift toward sustainable data centres and eco-friendly hardware and even software development’

Amid the growing scrutiny over the carbon footprint of information technology, there is a silver lining: enterprise IT is not just a challenge, but a potential catalyst for change. With the right strategies, organisations can transition from energy-intensive computation to become models of efficiency, reducing emissions and even driving innovations that contribute to environmental solutions.

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Why it is in the news: Ardanis is helping its clients to navigate complex questions around sustainability in enterprise IT

André Gravato, head of technology at software and technology consultancy Ardanis, said that while some businesses were sticking to business as usual, there was growing awareness of sustainability.

Typically, larger businesses are most aware of the issue, he said, partly due to stricter regulations and targets.

“Some clients are interested. There is definitely an increasing demand, driven mostly by the EU regulations and carbon reduction targets. There is also pressure on corporate social responsibility from shareholders and consumer preferences, too,” Gravato said.

Naturally, data centres are a key issue, with a significant amount of focus on their energy consumption.

“There is a shift toward sustainable data centres and eco-friendly hardware and even software development,” he said.

Indeed, despite the bad press, shifting to data centres – which is, after all, where the so-called ‘cloud’ really lives – can, when done properly, reduce the energy consumption associated with enterprise IT.

“Typically, the cloud is more efficient than on-premise, really because the cloud providers have big budgets and access to state-of-the-art technology,” he said.

Crucially, cloud technology as the ne plus ultra of virtualisation never leaves hardware running unless a workload is being processed.

“You rarely have the hardware sitting idle,” Gravato said.

Software development is a factor, of course, as applications need to be developed with efficiency in mind. Help is at hand, though, for developers seeking to reduce their applications’ carbon footprints.

“There are quite a few strategies for software. The Green Software Foundation, for instance, publishes practices and principles that companies can use to reduce their carbon footprint,” Gravato said.

“Optimisation of algorithms is a big one, but also using carbon-aware computing and energy-aware scheduling, where the focus is to perform the computation where and when renewable energy is more abundant, or the grid has lower carbon intensity.”

Nevertheless, one recent development – the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) – is weighing heavily on many a mind. One recent report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) put AI on a list alongside crypto mining as a major growth area in energy consumption.

There is definitely an increasing demand, driven mostly by the EU regulations and carbon reduction targets

Taken together, data centres, cryptocurrencies, and AI accounted for around two per cent of global electricity demand in 2022, using 460TWh of electricity, according to the IEA’s annual electricity report released in January of this year. There is no magical solution to AI’s power needs, Gravato said, but a rational approach will go a long way.

“To mitigate the [AI] power consumption, we first need to implement the ability to measure it, to be able to compare an AI solution to others, and understand the impact of mitigation actions,” he said.

In addition, a serious approach to deploying AI will take energy use into account – including working to reduce it.

“Model optimisation and using energy-efficient algorithms will help. You can also have sustainable [AI] training practices and be more energy-aware,” he said.

One of the reasons, apart from simple costs, that businesses are now considering energy use is that the expanded Scope 3 carbon accounting regulations now not only focus on reducing direct carbon emissions but also indirect ones in an organisation's supply chain, which might include, for instance, cloud computing.

Gravato said this was having a positive effect by ensuring that emissions were no longer seen as an externality.

“It creates a chain effect by demanding better sustainability and passing that demand on to the next step in the chain, and so on,” he said.