A Yottabyte by 2030, that’s a whole Yotta CO² emissions

By 2030 if data continues to grow at the current rate, then we are likely to exceed 1 Yottabyte of data created in a single year. (For reference, a Yottabyte is approximately 1,000 zettabytes, a trillion terabytes or a million trillion megabytes). But here’s why this really concerns me: Research shows that 68% or more of this vast amount of data is never used once it has been created, and the CO² emissions created by powering the technology to store this data today is greater than that of the entire airline industry.

Let that sink in for a minute!

Datacentres will come under increasing scrutiny as estimates show that they are currently consuming upwards of 2% of the world’s energy and predictions are that if we don’t make some major changes, this could rise to 8% or more by 2030. At these levels it is just a matter of time before datacentre usage hits Government agendas across the globe. And depending on where you are based the situation could be bad or, frankly, really bad: For example, in the US 71% of energy comes from oil, gas, and coal.

There’s no simple answer to a problem of this magnitude but there are steps we need to be taking. Some of these will require a lot of effort and should be done because they are the right thing to do; others may be forced upon us.

It’s very likely that we’ll see environmental taxes, although quite what form these will take is yet to be seen. This will certainly be a way for governments to force the necessary change to ensure organisations take much more significant steps to increasing their sustainability.

We have got to stop storing stuff we don’t use or don’t need. The tech industry has been putting sticking plasters on this problem for decades now, with bigger drives, flash, de-duplication, and other efficiency technologies, but this is NOT the solution. Companies are going to have to start associating a value to data and also ownership. If you ask the users they’ll often tell you “Yes, we create the data, but IT are responsible for it”, then you ask IT who say, “we’re just the custodians of it, the users own it” and round and round we go. Someone or some group is going to have to take responsibility for data throughout its lifecycle.

I’m aware of a company that recently refused to buy through a particular partner. When asked why, they responded that the partner’s diversity and inclusion policy didn’t meet their company’s required standards. My feeling is that sustainability will also become an important criteria for deciding which companies we are prepared to do business with. Already we are witnessing this in the UK as people switch energy providers to those that generate power through more sustainable approaches, and these behaviours are often very rapidly adopted by the organisations that we work for.

As they consume vast amounts of energy to power the massive datacentres that they’ve built, the cloud providers know that they can exert huge influence on their energy providers. If they need a new datacentre, then they can approach an energy company and ask them to build a solar farm or wind farm, and commit to purchasing so much energy from it, that it can justify the investment.

The cloud providers want your data, well actually they want you to move as much of your IT operations as you can into their clouds. Other blogs can cover why it’s such a good idea to move workloads to the cloud, but here I just want to highlight that the more you move out of your locations to theirs, the more likely it is that you’ve made a big reduction in emissions and have taken a step towards improved sustainability.

It’s an obvious statement, but older technology is less efficient than newer stuff, so buying behaviours need to change. Those 5- or 6-year write-down periods will become an issue if you start to get hit with environmental taxes; newer tech is faster, usually more efficient, and densities are greater, and, not only is it more cost effective but these benefits could directly, positively impact your users and therefore your business. When you bring the likely cost of emissions into your calculations, by how much should you be shortening that write-down period? Maybe you shouldn’t be buying stuff at all, but rather look at the new consumption models that tech vendors are offering, and then refresh every couple of years?

Companies like NetApp have an extremely important role to play in this: Firstly we have to make sure we have our own house in order and while there’s always more to be done you can see some of the steps we’ve made in our ESG report. Come back in a few weeks and we’ll have the 2021 version published. Then there are the solutions we can bring to address some of these challenges. This isn’t the post for me to go digging into products, so I’ll just show you the different layers of focus, of which Storage and Services is just one.

I cover most of the layers above in other posts on my blog site so if you’d like a little more detail then have a wander around and you’ll quickly find what you’re after.

A situation that I really hope that we don’t get too though is that we move all our stuff to the cloud and then just effectively delegate the problem to someone else, yes I did say that the cloud providers have very strong sustainability credentials but I would still feel that it’s a terrible waste for these solar farms and wind farms to be powering the technology required to store that 68% of data that we simply don’t use, and even if that doesn’t concern you then maybe just the cold hard fact that you’re paying them to store it should.

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