December 17, 2015
4 min read time

A lighter footprint in the face of climate change

Incredible uncertainty surrounded the recent UN climate talks in Paris, including a lot of doubt as to whether an agreement could be struck at all. In the end, the historic Paris Agreement, coming in at 31 pages, laid out a basic roadmap (even if all the details aren’t ironed out) for curbing global warming and helping developing nations (largely those who will be most affected by climate change but the least able to do anything about it) cope.

While bold and sweeping action and investment will undoubtedly be required to achieve the goals of the climate agreement, it’s also true that every little bit counts. In our own work, we think a lot about sustainability and maximizing resources. It’s built into our Varnish solutions, in fact. One of its biggest benefits, which also happens to be environmentally friendly by enabling a smaller carbon footprint, is its ability to help reduce the number of web servers by up to 89 percent. Obviously this leads to lower maintenance costs and adds up to a quick return on investment… but it also means a significantly reduced footprint.

Environmental toll of a Netflix binge

We’re not alone in thinking about the environmental impact of what we do - or what businesses collectively do. Just today, The Atlantic published an article, “The Environmental Toll of a Netflix Binge”, and the timing - and theme - could not be better. In a lot of what we see and read about climate change, environmental effects and the need to act is abstract and difficult to understand on a granular enough level that an individual can somehow make the leap from his or her own Netflix binge (and who isn’t guilty of that?) to cumulative environmental effects to implementing climate change agreements to results. And the bottom line is just that - whether it’s financial or environmental: results.   

A climate-friendly bottom line

According to The Atlantic, citing 2012 statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, companies like Google and Facebook used more electricity in their data centers than entire large metro areas or, in some cases, entire countries. With this in mind, discussion has reached fever pitch debating the “efficiency” of electricity use versus the actual source of the electricity. And this is where things are likely to get interesting - and start changing. It’s not just going to be about where the electricity comes from; it’s also going to be about making the most of the least, i.e., do more with less. As The Atlantic articles states, “The decision to use renewable energy is as much a business calculation as it is a public-relations one.” Similarly, the decision to look for efficiencies in solutions and software to reduce overall consumption will also be a bottom-line necessity. A global climate agreement, assuming it is enacted, enforced and expanded on, will inevitably lead to stronger drives and mandates to reduce and reuse and look for smart ways to continue business as usual, to continue innovating but also continue to reap profits. It’s business, after all. The PR and sustainability report is, for now, a side effect, that will undoubtedly grow in importance.

Using Varnish to do more with less

In our own work, we’re driven by helping companies become more efficient, reducing their reliance on adding more servers to their infrastructure. We’ve seen one media customer reduce their server park from 12 servers to just 2. We’ve seen a major, fast-growing e-commerce retailer be able to halt planned significant server park expansion by implementing Varnish Plus. While they have not cut back on the number of servers, they will be able to maintain their current server base while continuing exponential growth. Clearly this approach - less is more - generates a lot of savings: lower maintenance costs, lower/fewer expansion costs and, more relevant to the point, lower energy costs (both in reducing energy use and in generating less heat/reducing burden on cooling infrastructure) - not just monetarily but also in terms of the environmental footprint.

The result of the climate change agreement may well put new restrictions in place - regulatory demands, increases in electricity costs, making companies prove that they are making efforts to reduce their own environmental burden. None of these “green” efforts necessarily need to be driven by the sole desire to be green or solely for corporate social responsibility bragging rights - in many cases the environmentally friendly and sustainable option will in fact be less expensive and more efficient.

Going green is about more than just ‘political correctness’; it also can have a tremendous, positive effect on business pressures to lower the overall cost of computing.” - Gartner, “Rising Energy Costs and Aging Data Centers” (Data Center Conference: Day 4 Highlights the ‘Greening’ of Data Centers, by John R. Phelps and Mike Chuba, November 30, 2007, Gartner, Inc., ID Number: G00153658.)

Image is (c) dekade 2008 and used under a CC license.