Kubernetes Improves Environmental Impact, Even for Small Companies
If there’s one takeaway D2iQ software engineers Mary Karroqe and Zinnia Gibson wanted conference-goers at KubeCon+Cloud NativeCon Europe 2023 to walk away knowing, it’s that development practices impact the environment.
Skeptical? Consider that the greatest greenhouse emissions come not from transportation or manufacturing, but from electricity — the lifeblood of information technology. And beyond that consider the carbon footprint of a data center, which uses the equivalent energy of 50,000 homes, Gibson told audiences Friday in Amsterdam.
The Problem with Data Centers
“We learned in our research that data centers are among the largest and fastest growing consumers of natural resources, from the water they use for power and cooling to the land they use up, and then, of course, the generated electricity they require,” Gibson said. “The cloud now has a bigger carbon footprint than the entire airline industry. That number was as of 2019 but even after the recent travel, though, the cloud is now growing at a faster rate of carbon emissions than the airline industry.”
Much of that electricity is just to make sure the cloud has cooling redundancies and stays up 24/7, she added, leaving just 12% of the electricity used for active computational processes. People tend to think of electricity as cleaner than other carbon producers, but the truth is that only 17% of the energy produced in the EU is from renewable sources — a figure that goes much lower in other regions of the world, added Karroqe.
“Everything else is fossil fuel based — so like natural gas, coal, things like that,” Karroqe said. “This matters, and in the EU, there’s been a legal pressure to make these numbers better. And under a new European climate law, EU countries have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55%. That’s more than half by 2030, which is not that far away — it’s less than seven years away.”
The EU’s goal is to be climate neutral by 2050, she added.
“The tech industry has a big role to play,” Karroqe said. “We hold a lot of weight in reaching this goal.”
Two Game Companies, Both Alike in Dignity
Gibson and Karroqe asked the audience to imagine two large-scale — Triple A size — gaming companies, with identical products, but Company K has already adopted Kubernetes while Company V uses virtual machines but plans to shift to Kubernetes when its growth requires it.
“We’re at KubeCon, so you all know the benefits of Kubernetes at scale, but we just wanted to highlight that those benefits are also environmental. Your company K’s experiencing enhanced DevOps efficiency, which means that their energy usage is lower, their cost is lower, and they’re using less resources from those data centers,” Karroqe said. “You can imagine if you have infrastructure at this scale that is mismanaged — something that might feel like a small mistake takes a lot of energy to keep cool and be online all the time.
“Another thing: If you’re working with those VMs, even development is a lot more complex. And that’s something we wanted to highlight as well, as it’s not just the experience of having things up and running, but also the experience of developing those things that have an environmental impact,” she added.
Even small companies, such as indie companies, will see a benefit from being able to scale up or down with Kubernetes, particularly if they were to be acquired by a larger company, she added.
“So if company K was already running Kubernetes as they were merging into this larger infrastructure, they have a lot less training to think about; they have a lot less migration worries than you would if you were like company V, experiencing more infrastructure cost and a lot of effort to train people to migrate over to Kubernetes,” Karroge said.
So smaller companies — even single developers — would also do well, both environmentally and efficiency-wise, to scale up with Kubernetes instead of implementing VMs and then later trying to play catch up with Kubernetes, the two contended.
“We see this even at the smaller scale, whereas company V again, using containerized VMs — there’s a lot of difficulty with managing VMs, especially when you’re talking about a larger user base, and the key thing here that we wanted to point out is that there’s not ephemeral resources for testing, whereas [with] Kubernetes you can scale something up, test it, scale it down,” Gibson said.
Most likely, Company V is running a testing platform all the time, which costs extra in terms of money and the environmental responsibility, she said.
While both agreed that Kubernetes isn’t a perfect solution, it can be used to move the dial on the environmental impact of development, they said, if companies take three steps: train small; test small; and embrace upstream projects.
Specific upstream projects they mentioned in their presentation:
- GreenFrame, an open source tool for measuring a website’s CO2 emissions;
- Prometheus, for testing and metrics;
- Agones to host, run, and scale dedicated game servers on Kubernetes;
- The CNCF Environmental Sustainability Working Group, which has biweekly meetings.
CNCF paid for travel and accommodations for The New Stack to attend the KubeCon+CloudNativeConEurope 2023 conference.