Every cloud has a green lining – BCS

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According to McKinsey & Company, weve seen digital transformation accelerate seven years ahead of schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also showed a seven year acceleration, on average, of companies creating digital or digitally-enhanced offerings.

Rather than this change being driven by B2B or B2C companies, it is instead being determined by those with or without physical products. The report states that the reported increases are much more significant in healthcare and pharma, financial services, and professional services, where executives report a jump nearly twice as large as those reported in CPG companies.

To further bolster this acceleration, a more recent study from IBM suggested the pandemic accelerated digital transformation by 59%. 60% of respondents also said COVID-19 adjusted our approach to change management and accelerated process automation, with 64% acknowledging a shift to more cloud-based business activities.

McKinsey & Company followed up their digital transformation report with a survey on digital consumer habits, which found a 20% growth in fully digital users in the six months ending in April 2021. Unsurprisingly, the survey showed a slight decrease in online activities once the world came out of lockdown for sectors like apparel, general retail, and grocery, where physical experiences are still valued by consumers. But this slight decrease is minimal in comparison to the general global increased digital footprint - across developed and developing countries.

Whether at home, in the office, working, or not, our lives are almost fully digital now, with a growing number of the technologies and applications we use every day being cloud-based. But, as mentioned above, every aspect of modern computing has a carbon price tag attached to it. With more people using more devices every day, there is a cost to the environment - and its one a lot of computing companies dont pay attention to. Experimentation to advance the human race at the cost of, well, the Earth.

Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) are trying to solve the impact modern computing is having on climate change - by realising its true effect on the environment and how to create and implement more sustainable practices. Earlier this year, they delivered their findings in a paper called Chasing Carbon: The Elusive Environmental Footprint of Computing.

The study found that carbon emissions have two sources: operational energy consumption, and hardware manufacturing and infrastructure. While algorithmic, software, and hardware innovations that boost performance and power efficiency help reduce the carbon footprint of operational energy consumption, the overall carbon footprint of computer systems continues to grow.

The paper specifically highlights data centres as contributing to carbon emissions - they account for 1% of global energy consumption, which is unsurprising when you think about how much energy is required to house and cool their servers. This helps demonstrate the importance for companies using the cloud to ensure they work with providers and hosting companies that are carbon-thoughtful.

The paper also looked at how reducing the complexity of devices could reduce manufacturing emissions. For example, look at modern chip design which houses silicon and billions of transistors. With only one small portion of the chip being used at any one time, theres a lot of unused silicon - or dark silicon, as its called - that increases performance. But at what cost to the environment?

Time is running out. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the worlds leading authority on climate science - recently announced that human activity was unequivocally the cause of rapid changes to the climate. Confirming temperatures are on course to rise by at least 1.5 degrees over the next two decades, the IPCC said only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent such climate breakdown.

Every action or inaction has an impact on the environment and companies cannot play the ignorance card anymore. With more people moving online, companies delivering computational products and services must ensure they are doing so in the most sustainable way possible. This is especially important for those working in modern computing - what is the environmental impact your innovations are having? Do they cause more damage even when they are meant to solve the climate change crisis?

The cloud is enabling various products and services to help tackle the climate crisis around the globe but not all clouds are the same. You must consider the impact your provider is having - are they using renewable energy? Are they offsetting their carbon? Are they ensuring the most sustainable practices are in place? We need to all work together to reduce our carbon footprint now - and, when it comes to the cloud and the worlds accelerated digital transformation, that means looking at your own carbon footprint as well as your suppliers.

Jake Madders, along with his business partner Jon Lucas, founded Hyve Managed Hosting, in 2001. Since then, in his role as Director, Jake has facilitated the growth of Hyve from a small start-up to a hugely successful managed cloud hosting company with a global customer base.

Jake can often be found discussing a range of cloud and tech topics such as password security, preparing for cyber attacks, and the importance of diversification of tech.

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Every cloud has a green lining - BCS

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