How tracking its carbon footprint saved Akamai cash

How tracking its carbon footprint saved Akamai cash

[Editor's note: This story was updated to discuss peak traffic instead of total traffic.]

The Internet has enabled massive dematerialization of traditional brick and mortar industries through the emergence of online services such as shopping, banking, communication and entertainment. However, this success has been accompanied by rapid growth in the Internet’s own environmental impact. Akamai, an integral component of the Internet, is keenly aware of its contribution. 

If you use the Internet for anything – e-commerce, enterprise cloud computing, software downloads, Web marketing or high-definition video – you’ve probably encountered Akamai’s services without even knowing it. Akamai optimizes online experiences, helping businesses securely and reliably connect users to any experience, on any device, anywhere. Our mission is to accelerate innovation in the hyperconnected world and to ensure the best online experience on any device, anywhere.

Akamai has tracked greenhouse gas emissions associated with our business operations for four years now. Over this time, we have found monitoring and controlling our carbon footprint to be a valuable business-management practice. 

Akamai’s key business operations include running our global server platform, office operations, employee travel and commuting. Like most companies and industries, Akamai’s carbon footprint closely reflects our energy consumption and operational costs.     

Tracking our carbon footprint is an element of what we do as part of our sustainability program, and is seemingly tangential to our core business of making the Internet faster for our customers. But in doing so we are able to understand how and why we use the energy we use and focus on big payback targets. This very process helps us think of ways to do things more efficiently – and innovate! 

Historically, energy had been a minor component of our operational costs, and so it hadn’t been prominent on our radar.  However, energy prices have been on the rise while other aspects of our operational costs -- such as bandwidth -- have been falling. Thanks to carbon-footprint management, we now have the data to analyze usage trends and look at the cost implications. We can more easily evaluate our assumptions and identify opportunities both to improve operational efficiency and to lower costs.

Here’s an example. Traditionally, we deployed our servers in racks based on the maximum power draw of a server as measured in our lab and the power supplied to the rack. An analysis of real-time energy data showed that, in many cases, the server racks were using only a fraction of the supplied power. Considering that we often pay for the supplied power, rather than the energy actually used by the servers, this was costing us money.

We had an opportunity to realize significant savings by optimizing -- based on real-time energy data -- both the supplied power and the number of servers per rack. We also looked at the cost benefits of paying for the energy consumed, instead of supplied, to ensure that our costs are directly keyed to our server operations.

Another benefit of tracking our carbon footprint has been that, by leveraging our energy data, we’ve been able to quantify the aggregate impact of server platform efficiency projects captured by an intensity metric: traffic per unit of energy. As you can see in the graph below, we have improved our efficiency by a factor of three as peak traffic grew fourfold.

By measuring its carbon footprint, Akamai found several ways to save money.











No longer seen as a tangential aspect of Akamai’s business, managing our carbon footprint is helping us to better manage our business.

Photo courtesy of Oleksiy Mark via Shutterstock.