WekaIO wants us to be aware of datacenter carbon emissions caused by workloads using its software technology – AI, machine learning and HPC – and aims to counter those emissions with a sustainable AI initiative.
It says that although these technologies can power research, discoveries, and innovation, their use is also contributing to the acceleration of the world’s climate and energy crises. WekaIO wants to collaborate with leaders in the political, scientific, business, and technology communities worldwide to promote more efficient and sustainable use of AI. What it is actually doing now, as a first step, is planting 20,000 trees in 2023 and committing to plant ten trees for every petabyte of storage capacity it sells annually in the future, by partnering with the One Tree Planted organization.
Weka president Jonathan Martin said: “Our planet is experiencing severe distress. If we do not quickly find ways to tame AI’s insatiable energy demands and rein in its rapidly expanding carbon footprint, it will only accelerate and intensify the very problems we hoped it would help us solve.”
Is WekaIO just greenwashing – putting an environmentally aware marketing coat around more or less unchanged carbon-emitting activities?
Weka’s software indirectly contributes to global warming through carbon emissions caused by the servers on which it runs using electricity for power and cooling. How much carbon do they emit?
One estimate by goclimate.com says emissions from a Nordic on-premises or datacenter server are 975kg CO2-eq/year, assuming the servers don’t use green electricity from wind farms and solar power. How many trees are needed to absorb that?
The average tree absorbs an average of 10kg, or 22lb, of carbon dioxide per year for the first 20 years, according to One Tree Planted. So Weka would need to plant 97.5 trees per year to absorb it for the working life time of this petabyte of storage. If that petabyte runs across eight servers, emitting 7,800kg of carbon per year, then WekaIO would need to plant 780 trees a year.
But WekaIO is planting 20,000 trees in 2023, which would absorb 200,000kg of CO2 per year. This is real.
Previously object storage supplier Scality has got involved in reforestation. It seems a good idea and perhaps there’s scope here for organized storage industry action.
Martin said: “We also recognize that reforestation is only one piece of the decarbonization puzzle. It would be tempting to stop there, but there is much more work to be done. The business, technology, and scientific communities must work together to find ways to make AI and the entire enterprise data stack more sustainable. Weka is committed to doing its part to help make that happen. Watch this space.”
The Storage Networking Industry Association has its Emerald initiative to reduce storage-caused datacenter carbon emissions. Pure Storage also has a strong emphasis on carbon emission reduction via flash drive use, although its all-flash product sales are obviously improved if storage customers buy fewer disk drives.
Weka’s green stance is not compromised by such concerns. Balancing storage supplier business interests and environmental concerns, without demonizing particular technologies, is going to be a hard nut to crack and getting a storage industry-wide consensus may be impossible. But a storage or IT industry-wide commitment to reforestation, via perhaps an agreed levy on revenues, might be feasible. Let’s watch this space, as Martin suggests.