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Efforts to achieve carbon neutrality are on the rise, with a global consensus that climate change is an urgent concern that requires international action. 

While carbon intensive industries like manufacturing, transportation and agriculture are used to being on the receiving end of public criticism for their ecological shortcomings, data has emerged as another bottleneck.

In the spirit of Earth Day, it may be time to reconsider more sustainable solutions when it comes to data storage.

Data creation and consumption is growing by leaps and bounds

We’re generating more data than ever before, which, of course, means that data centers are also growing to accommodate increasingly complex IT infrastructures.

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But these data storage centers, both on premises and in the cloud, consume massive amounts of energy and electricity. With new devices connecting to the internet every second, according to a recent McKinsey study, data centers account for 1.8% of electricity use in the United States and contribute to 0.3% of all global CO2 emissions.

So if data is flowing like water trying to get out, eventually, it’ll be nearly impossible to stay ahead of the dam breaking. Luckily, there are steps enterprises can take to plug the holes early and become truly green in the near future.

Understand the impact of data storage

In the “Exponential Climate Action Roadmap” laid out by the World Economic Forum, digital technologies could help reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15% – one-third of the 50% reduction required by 2030. 

On the surface, this sounds like a lofty goal. But, reducing your environmental footprint first requires understanding how your data storage is currently managed, both from an IT perspective and across other departments within your organization. This involves more than purchasing energy-efficient hardware.

Invest in low-code software to shape your digital workplace

Recently, Mendix, a low-code software development platform, and Atos, an IT service and consulting company, expanded their global partnership to drive digital decarbonization with their enterprise low-code solutions.

Atos is already in the process of building industry-specific solutions based on Mendix’s platform to monitor, report and track real-time energy consumption and carbon emission across 1,800 locations globally. 

At a time when the tech industry is booming, the global software developer shortage is predicted to reach 85.2 million workers by 2030. This “developer drought” necessitates the need for a paradigm shift in the way companies develop and maintain software applications.

Low-code tools are designed to manage updates through automation, helping to bridge the skills gap by enabling non-programmers to build products without having to learn complex computer languages. This not only frees up IT teams for other vital tasks, but drastically reduces their product’s time-to-market.

Johan den Haan, CTO of Mendix, notes, “The goal of low-code is to deliver maximum value using minimal resources. If you want to decarbonize, you need to digitize. And if you want to digitize, you need to democratize your software with low-code solutions.”

Deploying smart data management

In addition to “low-code,” the term “cloud-native computing” has become somewhat of a catchall for the various systems and strategies required by software developers to create, deploy and manage modern software applications on cloud infrastructure.

Research from Veritas Technologies shows that 99% of organizations plan to increase workloads in cloud environments over the next three years, with 98% attributing the shift to sustainability strategies. However, storing data in the cloud takes energy to power their servers, storage equipment and cooling infrastructure, which largely comes from burning fossil fuels.

Eric Seidman, senior director at Veritas Technologies, says that evolving backup strategies to include advanced deduplication can help organizations meet their environmental impact goals to shrink their carbon footprints.

At a high level, deduplication refers to a process that eliminates redundant data. Most enterprises create multiple copies of the same datasets mainly to ensure that a backup exists at all times in the event of a hardware failure or security breach.

Though replication provides many benefits, U.S. Grid Emissions Factor data suggests that storing just 1 petabyte of unoptimized backup data in the cloud for one year could create as much as 3.5 metric tons of CO2 waste.

“In order to make data storage more efficient and less harmful to the climate, the lifecycle of the data needs to be intelligently managed,” said Seidman.

To achieve this, organizations need to determine what data can be eliminated, compressed and/or optimized for storage in the cloud.

Doing so will result in conserved storage capacity, a reduction in idle time and significant cloud storage savings.

Striking a balance between digitalization and decarbonization

The more digitized our economy becomes, the more we’ll continue to rely on data storage centers to support it.

But, the environmental implications behind data creation and storage can no longer be ignored. Key technical decision-makers must find environmentally sustainable ways to bring value to a company —without moving at a glacial pace.

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