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Cloud Services (Data Center Outsourcing)

Navigation: Minimum Sustainable Recommendations | What are the Issues? | What are the Options?  

Did you know……”Observers have noted that the massive migration of IT workloads to cloud is the third or fourth major disruptive shift in the history of computing, equaling in some ways the major disruption caused by the advent of the World Wide Web.” The Business of Federal technology, Michael Garland,2018.

Minimum Sustainable Recommendations

To support low carbon and sustainable cloud services, the vendor must provide environmental information for each data/server center associated with the portfolio of data/server center proposed for the cloud services.  These requirements also extend to the cloud service provider vendors (sub-contractors): 

  • Does your company measure and report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the data center(s) used to provide services under this contract, using a GHG protocol accounting standard?
    • What are the company’s reduction targets and what steps have you taken to reduce GHG emissions?
    • Does your organization identify, monitor and reduce fluorinated gases associated with the data center(s) cooling systems to provide cloud services under this contract, whether the data center is/are owned, leased or co-located?  Provide documented proof of activities.
  • Provide the Power Utilization Effectiveness (PUE) of the data center(s) used to provide services under this contract. Is this data independently verified and by whom?
    • Preference for a PUE of 1.5 or lower.
What is PUE?

PUE (Power Utilization Effectiveness): A metric used to measure the energy efficiency of data centers. It is calculated by the total energy consumption of the data center divided by the energy consumption of the IT equipment within it (servers, networking, and storage).

  • PUE of 2.0 would mean that all the energy consumed by IT equipment is matched by the energy used for items such as cooling, heating and lighting.
  • A PUE of 1.4 would mean 40% of the energy consumed by IT was used for cooling, heating and lighting.
  • PUE rankings: best in class = below 1.15; acceptable = below 1.5; and worst in class = above 2.
  • Provide the Water Utilization Effectiveness (WUE) of the data center(s) used to provide services under this contract. Is this data independently verified and by whom?
    • Preference for a WUE of 1.8L/kWh or lower.
What is WUE?

WUE (Water Utilization Effectiveness): A metric that measures the amount of water used by data centers to cool and regulate the humidity of the facility. It is calculated by dividing the facility’s annual water usage (in liters) by the annual energy consumption (in kilowatt hours) of the IT equipment inside it. Show preference to data centers with low WUE. According to a 2020 US Department of Energy report, the WUE of an average data center is 1.8L per 1kWh. Data centers with a WUE of 0.2 L/kWh or less use less than one cup of water for every kilowatt-hour delivered to servers.

  • Provide the Carbon Use Effectiveness (CUE) of the data center(s) used to provide services under this contract. Is this data independently verified and by whom?
    • Preference for a low CUE
What is CUE?

CUE (Carbon Use Effectiveness): The GHG emissions from data energy consumption are calculated by multiplying the data center’s electricity use total by the GHG emission factor of the electric utility provider or regional electricity grid system. The CUE’s ideal value is zero (a zero carbon data center); CUE does not have a theoretical upper bound.

 Both CUE and PUE simply cover the operations of the data center. They do not cover the full environmental burden of the life-cycle of the data center and ICT equipment. Currently CUE is specifically limited to GHG Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions.

  • Provide the percentage of data center(s) equipment (routers, servers, switches and data storage) that are certified or registered by credible, third party sustainability standards or ecolabels (e.g., Energy Star, EPEAT, ASHRAE guidelines).   
  • Provide your IT Equipment Recycling Policy and the e-waste to landfill percentage (by weight) for all data center(s) used to provide services under this contract.
    • Preference for waste diversion greater than 75%
  • What percentage of annual electricity used at the data center(s) is provided using renewable or green energy source?  Provide documentation and method used to derive the measurement(s).
    • Is your company actively procuring or producing renewable energy for the data centers?  Provide the publicly stated target and expect date to achieve the target. If you are not directly responsible for power consumption at the data center, does your company have criteria that address renewable energy use requirement by your suppliers?
  • Are the cloud services provided outsourced to other cloud service providers? If so, what percentage of the total capacity required under this contract will be outsourced? Please provide the PUE, WUE and CUE of the subcontracted portion of the service.

Other things to consider

Purchasers can maximize the GHG/environmental performance by allocating a greater portion of scoring points to any or all of the proposed metrics mentioned above. To support Manitoba’s Low Carbon Government Office,  consider giving CUE a high percentage of evaluation points when evaluating the bid responses to show preference for low carbon energy sources.   


What are the issues?

In the pre-cloud era, organizations in Manitoba managed the environmental impacts and carbon emissions associated with their on-premise data center through the proper selection and utilization of server and software equipment as well as proper equipment maintenance and data center cooling techniques.   Use of hydroelectricity, a low carbon power source, and mandated requirements to manage end-of-life electronics through licensed electronic recyclers resulted in on-premise data/server centers with low carbon footprints in our province.    

The days of local governments and businesses owning server equipment to meet their Information and Communications Technology (ICT) requirements (e.g. data storage/transfer, running business applications, etc.) are becoming a thing of the past. Most entities now meet most of their ICT capacity by purchasing “cloud” services – meaning the data/server equipment needed for ICT requirements are managed and hosted offsite by a third-party. The cloud model essentially takes traditional IT products, fractionalizes them and rents them out as a service to numerous customers on a pay as you go basis.  Data centers associated with cloud services are often bigger than a football field and house endless stacks of servers handling many terabytes (thousands of gigabytes) of digital traffic.

While there are numerous benefits associated with the use of cloud services (such as cost efficiency, enhanced security and rapid scalability of data storage needs), outsourcing data storage removes control of the environmental impacts associated with purchasing a physical commodity.  Energy use and GHG emissions of a data/server centers are directly related to:

  • Cloud equipment selection (embodied carbon),
  • Cloud facility(s) energy use efficiency,
  • Cloud server cooling techniques (temperature control),
  • Data center(s) power source, and
  • Management of end of life electronics. 

Energy consumption and the associated emissions are regarded as critical concerns by data center operators and data service purchasers.  Many data centers use energy derived from coal and/or natural gas.  Data centers also require huge amounts of water to operate, mostly for cooling. The fast expansion of data centers is leaving significant water footprints and challenges, especially in areas with a rapidly depleting groundwater supply.

The challenge for government procurement is what type of metrics can be requested in a bid document to support low carbon and sustainable cloud services.


What are the options?

The procurement goal is to select services with a low environmental footprint.  Data center owners, designers, engineers and managers are aware of the environmental issues and more specifically the carbon emissions and water use issues associated with the cloud services they offer. 

Engineers and designers are now building data centers with efficiency in mind to reduce their carbon footprint. For example, data centers are now able to efficiently operate at higher running temperatures, reducing energy usage related to cooling. Data Center Managers are also employing full lifecycle strategies to support embodied carbon management.  Strategies to extend the life of the equipment, such as virtualization and tiering the use of server equipment are being employed.   These activities help to maximize the sustainability of the service requested.

Many cloud service providers have made a commitment to clean energy and are transitioning from coal/natural gas to renewable sources.   In addition to reducing GHG emissions, many are locating and designing data centers with an effort to reduce water consumption.  Efforts include:

  • Leveraging outside cold air – e.g. Data centers built in cold regions can leverage ‘‘free’’ cooling by pushing cold outside air into hot data center computer rooms
  • Using non-potable water
  • Reusing warm water for heating – e.g. Warm water returned from data centers may be reused for heating offices and residential buildings. Thus, cooling towers are not necessarily required.

There are a variety of standards and metrics an organization can request in bid documents to help identify and compare energy consumption, GHG emissions, and water consumption impacts associated with vendor offerings.  Purchasers can maximize the GHG/environmental performance by allocating a greater portion of scoring points to any or all of the proposed metrics defined under Minimum Sustainable Recommendations (above).    



Purchasers Guide for Sustainability and Cloud-Service Procurements, March 2019, Green Electronics Council.

Computer Weekly: How to Reduce your Data Centre CO2 Emissions

West Coast Climate Forum: Strategy #3: Purchased ICT services (cloud-based, internet, e-mail, or telecommunications)


Last updated: March 2021

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