The digital data we all generate and accumulate is saved somewhere and increasingly it is stored using cloud services and sometimes multiple cloud services. Those cloud services require an escalating amount of energy to store that data and have it available for access on demand.
Our data includes emails and attachments, backups, documents and files, multiple copies of those documents and files, pictures, videos, security footage, installation files, applications, computer logs and more. It may come as a surprise to us that the impact of this increasing amount of data is not carbon neutral.
While we may focus on limiting emissions from industry, agriculture, and vehicles, in 2020 the digitisation of data was thought to generate 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It has been calculated by Climatiq that global emissions from cloud computing range from 2.5% to 3.7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, thereby exceeding emissions from commercial flights (about 2.4%). Data storage is increasing rapidly therefore we can expect the energy costs and consequences to increase as well.
Some of the owners of large data centres are trying to reduce their environmental impact (and reduce their energy bills) by running their centres off renewable energy and a growing number of businesses are installing renewable energy systems to directly power their IT infrastructure and this needs to continue. Reducing the amount of unnecessary data that is stored can also help.
Much of the data stored in data centres is considered “dark data”. Gartner defines dark data as “the information assets organisations collect, process and store during regular business activities but generally fail to use for other purposes.”
It provides more expense than value and can not only be a risk to business but also may consume unnecessary energy to store. This is data that we either have duplicate copies of, or that we will never ever access and use again. This data, although not useful or utilised by us, may be of consequence to bad actors if they are able to gain access to it.
How can we make a difference in our own backyard?
The good news is that reduction in files we have stored can reduce energy consumption costs on our local storage. Some over-accumulation of files and documents can be mitigated by the applications such as SharePoint that enable sharing and collaborating on documents and maintaining version control.
There is an added benefit in that the reduction in the accumulation of dark data can also assist in maintaining security and privacy of information.
We can also individually play a part in reducing global storage energy consumption. It can be simple things like unsubscribing from emails we rarely read, deleting old and obsolete files that we will never need again, reviewing our backup regime and making plans for what happens to our digital data when we die.
As businesses let’s review what files we are storing, who has access to those files, and whether we need them anymore. You will improve efficiency and the benefits can be financial as well as environmental.