People waste technology. Most of us have an extra smartphone, tablet, laptop, or maybe an extra external webcam, Bluetooth speaker, or other device that we hoard, sometimes because we keep it as a backup… and sometimes because we all just get hold of many of these things as well.
But that’s just hardware.
Waste also occurs at the software and data level, particularly in enterprise environments where unused applications and data stores reside either in local data room facilities, in public cloud data center instance contracts, or across a hybrid cloud span of both environments.
No “small” meal options
Although we don’t often think of “software solution” as a defined entity, this modern phenomenon is surprisingly widespread. But why?
Sometimes platform providers bundle more applications and services together than a customer would ever reasonably want, sometimes duplication occurs as a result of mergers and acquisitions, etc., sometimes customers choose too many services initially to cover risk and obtain discounts, some sometimes it’s a combination of both sides of the customer-sales funnel with enterprise software vendors running bloated technology stacks that never seem to offer a “small meal” option, ie it’s big food or nothing.
This waste factor obviously does more damage to the environment than many are aware of. Modern cloud data centers are some of the most carbon-intensive aspects of business today, but CIOs have the power to become the new environmental, social and governance (ESG) champions if they clean up and optimize the mess by providing transparent, data-driven insights and measurable progress towards goals.
Always vocal on this topic is Kelly Fleming in her role as co-founder and CIO of Cirrus Nexus, a company that works to give businesses direct control to monitor and optimize their cloud spend.
“As organizations grow and their IT operations become more complex, CIOs face the challenge of managing an ever-growing set of data in both cost- and energy-efficient ways,” Fleming said. “While the cloud offers a seemingly infinite number of resources to maintain and store data, failing to control and limit data hoarding can affect not only a company’s bottom line, but its sustainability goals as well. CIOs have the power to become ESG leaders for their companies by implementing sound policies to manage data growth effectively.”
The Cirrus Nexus technology leader notes that while many organizations have policies in place indicating when data should be archived and/or deleted, many struggle to enforce those policies in the increasingly complex world of cloud computing.
This is because data in the cloud often ends up on a number of orphaned, unused resources of various types, from disks and databases to “storage blocks” and data lakes.
Cloud parents need love too
“Without proper marking mechanisms in place, it can be challenging to keep track of the service owners of data resources. This keeps cost optimizers, who want to clean up waste, hesitant as deleting data without service owners’ approval can create more problems than they solve. Meanwhile, all these resources continue to consume power [electricity] every day until the moment they are deleted,” notes Fleming.
His team recommends enforcing a tagging policy to keep track of data service owners as a surefire way to ensure an IT department’s cleanup mechanisms are executed effectively.
Where a company actually chooses to locate its stored data is another way to limit its carbon footprint. The suggestion here is that IT managers should look to use data centers with low PUE (power consumption efficiency) and/or invest in improving their own local data center PUE. Furthermore, they should also look for data centers located in regions that draw on a greater percentage of renewable energy.
“In the US, some of the cleanest data centers run primarily on hydropower in the Northwest and a combination of solar and wind in the Southwest. Companies that have large amounts of data that need to be located closer to the Northeast US should consider investing in their own renewable energy production or using data centers in Central and Eastern Canada, two regions that generate some of the cleanest energy in North America, Fleming said.
Other continents have similar regional differences in green electricity production, so it is important to examine the carbon intensity of the data center regions used for cloud applications and storage to limit the cloud’s carbon footprint. It seems, then, that as employees, investors and consumers continue to push companies to meet their sustainability goals, more companies are turning to their CIOs to lead the charge.
Lean and eager
Also extremely confident on this topic is Steffen Wittmann in his role as CTO of LeanIX, a company that offers Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products to help companies achieve transparency and control over their enterprise architecture, cloud environments and microservices landscapes .
Whittman suggests that companies, especially larger enterprises, often struggle to understand and manage their software landscape, which can consist of off-the-shelf and homegrown applications running on hardware in data centers. As a result, these companies create technical debt by operating and maintaining an inefficient technology stack.
“Features like Enterprise Architecture Management (EAM) are key to managing and reducing this technical debt. With EAM, once a basic inventory is created, applications are mapped to business capabilities and then linked to concrete business values and outcomes,” said Wittmann. “This is the foundation for application rationalization and for managing risk. Unused applications can be removed or retired, duplicate applications that provide the same business capability will be unified and
applications at risk of obsolescence will be updated or replaced. This will help reduce operational costs and allow for easier planning and execution of transformation projects as the software landscape becomes less complex.”
Questions about cloud migration
On the cloud migration side, many will ask, why not just move everything to the cloud? After all, we have been told that cloud flexibility will solve all problems and it will create cost efficiencies.
“Cloud migration is usually a large undertaking and results in a multi-year transformation project for larger enterprises. Simply moving an existing software landscape to the cloud will not result in any significant benefits – costs will not be reduced, ultimately costs may even increase because the software/ the applications are not optimized to run on the cloud. Full understanding and management of the software and IT landscape provides better operational performance, lower costs and risks and contributes to the success of a business,” asserted LeanIX’s Wittmann.
He further notes that ultimately, organizations that step back and perform a more careful and considered assessment of their IT landscape will greatly support sustainability. This is because unused applications will be removed and idle processes stopped – like a car with an engine running but zero mileage, which you simply turn off.
“Combining apprationalization with modern technologies to minimize data in transit (eg GraphQL for data retrieval) will reduce the carbon footprint of any company and save resources on our planet,” Wittmann concluded.
Benjamin Brial, founder of Cycloid, a platform engineering firm that recently introduced a cloud carbon footprinting tool that enables “smarter, more environmentally conscious decisions about cloud consumption,” believes we all have a role to play in reducing waste.
“The goal of net zero is often seen as a long-term goal in IT, but the reality is that the effects of climate change are all around us and our industry must act now”, explains Brial. “For this to happen, there needs to be a mindset shift that will see IT managers, as well as CIOs and other IT leaders, become part of the conversation about how to incorporate sustainability into the overall strategy. The principles of A growing field in IT, GreenOps provides a framework for organizations to begin to understand and quantify the environmental impacts of their IT strategies, while fostering a culture of environmental responsibility that flows through an organization.Only when we understand the role we all have to play to reduce carbon emissions, organizations will begin to prioritize more efficient use of resources.”
As a topic, software and data waste doesn’t get much airtime – although data center power consumption issues do – and that’s probably because we’re all still pretty excited to talk about more apps, more automation, more AI and more developers to engage themselves throughout the ongoing party.
Going forward, we can still promote most of these elements in the same way, but it will be all the better if we do it with less waste. Now, wash your hands.