The vast majority of businesses now have a sustainability strategy, with technology leaders who have fully implemented green IT seeing improved productivity and efficiency among other things.

But new research also shows that organisations are encountering a number of different challenges as they seek to advance their sustainability efforts. Innovative technology set to disrupt the global economy will further challenge technology teams trying to hit green goals. 

The position is stark. A Stanford study published at the beginning of this year suggests that the earth will cross the global warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius within 10 to 15 years. Scientists believe that heating beyond that level could mean potentially irreversible climate impacts.

These and many other similar findings underscore the need for progress.

The impact of IT on carbon emissions

Researchers believe that IT1 is responsible for around 2.1% to 3.9% of global emissions. If they are correct, the IT industry emits more greenhouse gases than even the aviation industry. Although other studies2 have put IT’s greenhouse gases contribution at a much lower 1%, the point remains that more sustainable approaches to IT can play a significant role in helping organisations meet their net-zero goals and combat climate change.

According to Dell and VMware’s research conducted by Foundry, which surveyed senior IT professionals in the UK, France, and Germany, 98% of organisations have a sustainability strategy in place, although only 37% of this total have explicitly aligned this strategy with their business goals.

Volatility in the energy market is having a substantial impact on businesses and increasing the importance of cost management. In all, 72% of survey respondents reported that energy market volatility is having a severe or moderate impact on the importance of managing energy costs.

The challenges of green IT

Even with the clear cost benefits of sustainable IT, and the eagerness with which IT professionals are pursuing the green agenda, major challenges remain.

For a start, the digital revolution comes with an inherent carbon burden. The servers and data centres used to process digital workloads require vast amounts of energy to function and are adding to carbon emissions while also producing electronic waste. This challenge is getting worse as more businesses move to the cloud and new resource-hungry applications emerge.

Generative AI is a case in point. The technology promises to unlock a vast range of benefits for enterprises and society, but it also consumes enormous computational resources, which drives significant energy consumption and carbon emissions. It should be noted, however, that AI will also play a crucial role in helping businesses drive green IT (more on this below).

The research uncovers other obstacles to green IT, with no one issue standing out from the rest. These include controlling operational costs (35%), meeting sustainability goals (35%), and ensuring scalability (34%).

Data centre investments for greener IT

Fortunately, these and other such challenges are surmountable. As Ash McCarty, Director of Multicloud Product Management at Dell, says: “Modernising IT and meeting sustainability initiatives are not exclusive, plan and consolidate to lower energy consumption.”

Rory Choudhuri, Solutions Marketing Director, Cloud, EMEA, at VMware, adds: “IT has a critical role to play in helping organisations achieve their sustainability goals. By implementing the right cloud and digital technologies, IT leaders can help their organisations reduce environmental impact, improve their operational efficiency, and save money.

“IT leaders who are serious about driving enterprise-wide sustainability need to start by developing a comprehensive sustainability strategy. This strategy should identify the organisation’s sustainability goals, the specific cloud/digital technologies that will be used to achieve those goals, and the resources that will be needed to implement and support the strategy.”

With the market for green IT evolving all the time, there are already several data centre investments that enterprises can make to smooth the path to a more sustainable technology stack.

The first is edge computing, which offers an alternative to energy-intensive centralised processing for cloud workloads. Edge computing, which is enabled by technologies like the VMware Edge Compute Stack, processes data closer to the device that originally captures the data.

Sending data to the central server only on a need basis, and keeping most of the processing at the edge, drives efficiency by reducing traffic in cloud data centres.

Another key investment for green IT is infrastructure convergence. Dell’s VxRail, for instance, is a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) appliance that integrates Dell servers and VMware vSAN storage into a single, unified platform. Dell’s HCI simplifies deployment and operations of virtual environments and helps organisations consolidate their IT infrastructure and accelerate innovation and data centre modernisation across the core, edge, and cloud.

By reducing the number of servers needed for specific workloads and consolidating multiple workloads and operations into a single environment, VxRail shrinks businesses’ IT footprint and unlock more efficient operations. The approach also helps lower power consumption by up to 50%. This is a greener approach that also addresses technology leaders’ concerns over energy price volatility.

AI is a third crucial investment. In addition to making the data centre technologies that enable AI more energy efficient, businesses can leverage AI insights to improve IT efficiency.

AI operations (AIOps) technologies like Dell’s CloudIQ, combine IT infrastructure energy and emissions tracking and forecasting with IT infrastructure analytics, so businesses can make informed decisions about consolidating workloads and refreshing technology for energy efficiency to reduce IT and carbon footprint.

Jon Brown, an ESG analyst, says: “Dell’s inclusion of energy and carbon usage metrics in CloudIQ offers organisations a new and better way to quantify and reduce their energy consumption footprint. It is a good example of what Dell is doing to make sustainability part of the fabric of IT management.”

Choudhuri adds: “Generative AI can help IT organisations to be more sustainable by optimising energy consumption, reducing hardware waste, improving resource utilisation, and automating IT operations. For many years, VMware has used AI to intelligently analyse and predict workload demand.

“Dell is using generative AI to design more energy-efficient data centres, extend the lifespan of hardware while improving its carbon consumption and to identify opportunities for reuse and recycling.”

Decentralise and simplify

As technology leaders look to progress their green IT strategies, decentralising processing by embracing high-performance edge computing, streamlining technologies to consolidate and reduce energy consumption, and embracing AI-driven insights are all promising approaches.

Advances in technology mean that enterprises today can both reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions while continuing to take advantage of the digital innovations needed to drive growth. IT may have historically been a major source of carbon emissions, but the path to a greener and cleaner future is clear.

Learn more about the VMware Edge Compute Stack and Dell VxRail Hyperconverged Infrastructure.

1 Lancaster University, Emissions from computing and ICT could be worse than previously thought, September 2021

2 McKinsey Digital, The green IT revolution: A blueprint for CIOs to combat climate change, September 2022