How AWS makes data centres more efficient and sustainable

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a global cloud leader, but how does CEO Adam Selipsky balance scale with sustainability as he aims for net zero?

According to the latest available data, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the global market leader when it comes to cloud. According to Synergy Research Group, AWS market share stands at 32%, Microsoft Azure on 22% and Google Cloud on 11%.

As AWS CEO Adam Selipsky has said, making profits and working on ways to protect the environment do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Being the market leader in a US$250 billion a year industry brings its own challenges when it comes to sustainability, but AWS is also leading the way on that front – by designing data centres that minimise everyone’s environmental footprint.

The figures seem impressive. AWS says its infrastructure is five times more energy efficient than typical European data centres (and 3.6 times more efficient on average than those in the US), and 90% of electricity consumed by Amazon in 2022 came from renewables.

So how strategy does AWS employ to achieve its sustainability goals?

AWS Strategy – water-positive by 2030

The company says it has a focus on efficiency across all aspects of its infrastructure – from the hardware to how it is operated. Constant improvements lead to greater reductions in energy usage.

That is essential, with data centres estimated to consume 3% of global electricity, which could rise to 4% by 2030.

Being a hyperscaler like AWS brings benefits as well as barriers. 

Economies of scale mean AWS’ larger data centres can be more energy efficient. Then there’s the fact that moving on-premise workloads to AWS can lower customer carbon footprints by up to 80% – according to studies by 451 Research – and that figure can rise to 96% when AWS is 100% powered by renewables.

Anyone thinking all data centres are created equally should also think again. AWS uses advanced modelling to optimise designs, so it has a clear idea how to make it more energy efficient before it is even built.

Data centres generate significant amounts of heat, and cooling is one of the largest users of energy in data centres. AWS uses real-time data to adapt to changing temperatures and weather conditions, to optimise cooling efforts.

Water is also an essential element of that cooling, and AWS intends to be water-positive by 2030 – returning more water to communities than it uses.

“In just a few years, half of the world’s population is projected to live in water-stressed areas, so to ensure all people have access to water, we all need to innovate new ways to help conserve and reuse this precious resource,” said Adam Selipsky, CEO of AWS.

AWS CEO Adam Selipsky has said, making profits and working on ways to protect the environment do not have to be mutually exclusive.

In a classic case of prevention being better than cure, one of the best ways to make data centres more efficient is to improve the processors themselves. AWS worked with Arm to create the Graviton3 processor, which uses 60% less energy.

Inferentia is AWS’ most efficient machine learning chip, offering up to 50% more performance per watt and reducing costs by the same amount.

Announced at AWS re:Invent, Graviton4 delivers 30% better compute performance than Graviton3.

As mentioned, Amazon is well on the road to 100% renewable energy and hopes to hit that milestone by 2025 (five years ahead of target), as part of becoming net-zero by 2040.

This renewable energy comes from utility scale wind and solar, and Amazon has also invested US$2 billion through the Climate Pledge Fund to support sustainable technologies – including committing to purchase 250,000 metric tons of carbon removal from 1PointFive via direct air capture (DAC). 

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