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Green Data Centers? Cloud Giants Launch Tools To Help Companies Reduce Carbon

Microsoft data centers in Redmond, Washington

Two cloud giants are rolling out tools to help companies track and manage the carbon footprint of their data.

Both Microsoft and Google, two of the three largest data center users in the world, unveiled products and features this month that allow companies to monitor the environmental impact of their cloud usage and actively manage how much carbon it produces. The data center industry — particularly hyperscale cloud providers — is increasingly promoting such green initiatives as a growing number of corporate customers implement sustainability targets. 

"If we look at one sector that can have a huge impact and has the will to do it and the resources to put into doing it, it is the cloud business," said Stuart Adler, a professor at the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute, speaking with ZDNet

Microsoft announced the launch of its Cloud for Sustainability service last week, which gives corporate customers the ability to monitor the carbon output of their data usage. Measuring emission from the cloud is just one element of the product. Cloud for Sustainability is intended to be a broader platform for executives and teams responsible for implementing sustainability goals and reporting progress.

Essentially, it simplifies and automates so-called carbon accounting

“Organizations need to be able to record their environmental footprint, report to stakeholders, reduce their resource usage, remove their footprint through carbon offsets or recycling and replace high-footprint resources with low-footprint ones,” Microsoft Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Judson Althoff wrote in a blog post.

While Google also announced the introduction of carbon-reducing cloud features last week, its approach focuses on giving cloud administrators the ability to make day-to-day decisions based on sustainability. Google’s Cloud Console dashboard, used by a company’s IT administrators to direct cloud traffic to different data centers, will now indicate which facilities produce the least carbon dioxide. According to Google, administrators who see this sustainability data are almost 20% more likely to pick the infrastructure with the lowest emissions profile.  

Google also added a feature to Cloud Console that will recommend digital infrastructure to administrators based on sustainability criteria along with more standard measures like latency and cost. 

Carbon reduction is increasingly front and center in how cloud providers and other data center operators market themselves to potential enterprise customers. As rapid digital transformation has coincided with the broad adoption of Equity, Sustainability and Governance, or ESG, initiatives, companies are increasingly looking at the power-hungry data centers behind the cloud as a priority area for carbon reduction. 

Microsoft, Google, and Amazon — who together use the majority of the data center infrastructure in the U.S. — have all independently pledged to eliminate their net carbon output, and colocation providers are scrambling to figure out how to follow suit. 

“ESG has become a huge factor in everything that we do,” said Justin Puccio, executive vice president of corporate development for Data Bank at a Bisnow webinar last month. “That aspect of how you operate is becoming very much a key driver in the decision-making.”