How sustainable is your datacentre?

Tackling climate change

When you deploy applications and services, select a cloud provider, or even build your own datacentre, what considerations are given to sustainability?

Have you ever attempted to minimise resource usage for any reason other than cost or physical constraints, or maybe some particular business driver?

With the impacts of climate change being felt across the planet, many individuals and organisations are looking for ways to minimise or even achieve net zero carbon output. From the goods and services we consume, to the way we travel and the tools we use to collaborate. Some leaders are setting aggressive carbon neutral targets either in line with or exceeding government targets; Microsoft have even set a carbon negative goal for 2030, by which time they plan to have offset the carbon emitted by the company since it started in 1975.

Computing in 2020 frequently entails a range of thin and light mobile endpoint devices constantly connected to always-on, hosted datacentres where organisations typically deploy applications completely abstracted from the physical layer. Therefore as workloads have shifted from on-premises to virtualised systems in someone else’s datacentre, server assets have become more ephemeral compared to when physical rack space presented more practical constraints.

This consumption-based computing model therefore should come with a sense of the impact of that consumption. Some questions this should raise would include:

  • Are we needlessly wasting resources?
  • Are we consuming more resources than is actually needed?
  • Are systems designed to consume the least possible resources?
  • Has a previous ‘lift and shift’ migration to the cloud resulted in persistence of carbon-intensive design patterns that could be remedied by vectoring away from IaaS towards a PaaS, serverless or even SaaS approach?

Cloud sustainability

As organisations look to establish and drive sustainability targets, we expect the carbon footprint of compute resources to come under increasing scrutiny over the coming years.

How does the cloud impact the environment?

Silicon and the production of CPU’s, RAM and storage is not such an issue, these items are essentially ‘engineered sand’; Although like any industry, effort is required to ensure the impact of logistics and production are minimised. The datacentres these silicon-based items are ultimately deployed to, do take significant resources to operate longer term. Datacentres must be built, secured, maintained, upgraded, powered, watered and cooled. Some datacentres are better than others – they may use renewable energy sources and so forth. But the simple presence of datacentres is driven by the sheer amount of compute resources customers demand. And this is where you come in.


Before today it has been very difficult to quantify or measure the carbon footprint of compute resources. Microsoft has just introduced a feature that paves the way to enable exactly this and help organisations manage resources responsibly. This feature is called the Microsoft Sustainability report in Power BI. This provides those tasked with managing sustainability to get insights into the cloud resources used by the organisation and drive more sustainable usage.

Get started

  • Access to your organisations Azure enterprise portal.
  • From the EA portal, click Manage and note the ‘Enrollment Number’ for the Azure enterprise account. This is called the ‘tenant ID’ during the Power BI app setup process.

  • Still within the EA portal, click Reports > Download Usage and then API Access Key. Note the Primary Enrollment Account Key.

  • Open the Power BI portal and follow the instructions here to connect the Microsoft Sustainability report to your Azure tenant. NOTE: If you are generating a new key it may take 24 hours to be able to authenticate successfully via the PowerBi interface.


Once set up, the report is composed of several tabs:
  • Welcome: Information about the report as well as how to adjust it
  • GHG reporting: Green House Gases protocol page showing emissions for the tenant, this page can be used directly by those responsible for reporting GHG by your organisation to understand Azure emissions. The page allows filtering by geography, time and technology.
  • Dashboard: The real substance of the report; this tab presents the emissions and savings made through use of Azure services as opposed to on-premises datacentres and the spread of those emissions across technology, geography and time. This page also allows filtering consistent with the GHG reporting tab.
  • Microsoft energy investments: Details regarding an impressive array of renewable energy sources used to power Azure.
  • FAQ: Information about how the data is collected. How the data can be used. The relationship between Microsoft and your organisation with regards to emissions. How emissions are calculated and presented. Methodologies used and how on-premises values are calculated.


At this point in time the functionality is powerful but focussed at a fairly high-level to those directly involved in sustainability. Current use cases are targeting organisations who wish to:

  • Review capabilities of the feature through a sample data set.
  • Asses existing Azure carbon footprint.
  • Customise and share the report.

Where next?

With Microsoft setting targets to become carbon negative by 2030, this kind of feature looks set to become far more prevalent. Who knows where it will go but it would be great to see this expand into three areas specifically:
  1. Much like security, sustainability should be something everyone has a part to play in. Particularly those designing and deploying new systems, or operating existing systems. We can all look to minimise resource usage and not simply from a cost perspective.
  2. More visible sustainability stats within subscriptions and resource groups. This would enable operations and project teams to drive more tangible results (and faster) for minimising carbon footprint. For example targeting relatively heavy resources that are only seeing minimal utilisation could reap quick rewards – both for sustainability and traditional cost reductions.
  3. Microsoft could also potentially provide insights into what workloads would look like if they were shifted along from IaaS to PaaS or even to serverless architectures from a sustainability perspective.

Sizing and deploying cloud infrastructure has traditionally been a balance of cost, performance, fault tolerance and recovery requirements. In some organisations one factor or other may take precedence or others not so much. Sustainability is a new dimension that your customers may well look to you for leadership.

Lighten the load

There is a pertinent Colin Chapman quote to keep in mind, the context for this quote is automotive engineering, but it applies equally well to delivery of cloud solutions:

“Simplify, then add lightness”

Organisations showing an intent to drive standardisation, SaaS and serverless architectures with a significant degree of automation to both provision and deprovision resources will enable those organisations to reduce their carbon footprint significantly over traditional on-premises server-based architectures, on top of benefits gained purely through hosting IaaS in Azure.

We are looking forward to seeing where the sustainability features in Azure develop, and seeing how organisations respond to these features. Of course, if you would like some help with developing a sustainable infrastructure, risual is here.


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