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Green Data: The Role of Observability in Shaping a Sustainable Future

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Systems speak in data. Widespread digitization means systems communicate more than ever, while increasingly refined means of recording and interpreting their messages are revolutionizing IT management. Meanwhile, beyond the engine rooms of enterprises, our planet is trying to tell us something, too. In changing temperatures and rising sea levels, we see signs that our relationship with the natural world must change. In this article, we explore system data as a resource for transforming how enterprise technology relates to the environment.

The Lay of the Land

According to McKinsey, “Enterprise technology is responsible for emitting about 350 to 400 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent gases (CO2e), accounting for about 1 percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions… equivalent of the total carbon emitted by the United Kingdom.” While the IT industry is by no means the most environmentally harmful sector, new approaches are required across the board if we are to turn the tide on climate change. Beyond the ethical imperatives, demonstrating that a company’s actions align with its messaging around sustainability can offer significant business advantages. It signals long-term viability, enhances brand reputation, and fosters customer loyalty. It can also provide a competitive edge in recruitment amid the ongoing talent crisis. However, ensuring your system data is comprehensible enough to drive these outcomes can be challenging.

Terms of Engagement

Entering a fruitful discourse with our IT systems requires certain preconditions. If systems speak in data, they speak in many different languages. Today's IT environment sees data spread across various platforms, each presenting unique formats. The sheer volume and velocity of data generated by IT systems can complicate real-time processing, causing bottlenecks. Data integrity is a persistent issue—errors, inconsistencies, or gaps in the data may generate inaccurate results. Questions of privacy and security complicate things further: cybercriminals prey on data, and without proper safeguards, sensitive information can be placed at risk. These roadblocks call for advanced processing tools so that diffuse material can be collated and converted into wise decisions on sustainability.

Decoding the Data

Humans have always identified resources in their environment and fashioned tools to help them extract value. In the era of data, observability is one such tool. Put simply, observability solutions suck up vast quantities of infrastructure data and use it to map the inner workings of an ecosystem so that IT pros can identify issues before they become disruptions. While traditional monitoring tools help us understand individual systems, observability offers a more complete view of an ecosystem’s overall health.

Observability’s capacity to consolidate is a key advantage. Many teams currently rely on different monitoring tools from various vendors to monitor their IT environments. By combining several tools into a single observability solution, organizations can decrease the overhead and energy consumption required to maintain multiple systems. This means reduced operational costs, a more energy-efficient infrastructure, and the data integrity required for organizations to implement even more significant sustainability practices.

Listening to the System

How do these practices look? One of observability’s primary benefits is reducing system downtime, a major energy drain for organizations. The power needed to restart hardware components causes a surge in consumption, while cooling systems may need extra energy to cope with rapid temperature changes. Backup systems like UPS and generators are often activated during system failures, using more energy than the main systems that run during normal operations. New artificial intelligence (AI)-driven features in modern observability solutions can intervene to address potential issues before they cause a crash.

It’s not just issue prevention—observability tools also improve consistency when systems run perfectly. Costly energy spikes occur due to sudden increases in power consumption stemming from high computational demand during periods of high traffic, batch processing, data analysis, or other resource-intensive operations. Observability solutions provide real-time performance metrics and resource utilization data for dynamic load balancing. Advanced analytics can predict high-demand periods based on historical data, helping IT managers proactively distribute workloads and prevent sudden power surges. With observability, IT professionals are in the loop, capable of taking action to maintain the efficiency of their organization’s energy consumption.

Waste Not, Want Less

Observability’s ability to turn data into positive action around sustainability goes beyond energy consumption. It also has the potential to drastically minimize waste. By monitoring server utilization, organizations can identify underused servers and consolidate workloads onto fewer machines, reducing energy consumption and hardware costs. Observability also helps track application usage patterns, revealing which applications are seldom used or redundant. This allows IT teams to decommission unnecessary applications, freeing up resources and simplifying infrastructure. Observability data enables informed decisions around hardware upgrades. Real-time performance insights replace traditional upgrade cycles with dynamic, data-driven scheduling. Devices are refreshed based on actual usage and performance, not predetermined timelines. Those units causing costly downtime can be replaced, while healthy machines needn’t be thrown on the scrap heap before their time.

Conversations in Data

Our systems should reflect our values. But if the processes that underlie our work are a mystery to us, true alignment is out of reach. Instead, we remain dependent on the productivity our systems facilitate but are powerless to mitigate the environmental harm they cause. Data has emerged as an essential resource for joining the dots. With the right interpretive tools, we can learn the language of machines, turning messages from under the hood into conscientious business practices. Perhaps if we become fluent enough, we can establish a more harmonious discourse between humans, our systems, and the environment in the decades to come.

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Jeff Stewart
Jeff Stewart brings more than 20 years of monitoring and observability expertise, with over 13 years of product strategy and solutions engineering at SolarWinds. He is…
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