Carbon savings of cloud-based enterprise network functions

25 September 2023 | Strategy

Maria Tunberg | Andrew Daly | Paidamoyo Mtutu | Jack Potter


Sustainability initiatives are an increasingly decisive aspect of operations across many industries. Against a backdrop of rising energy costs and growing scrutiny of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, businesses are looking to maximise the efficiency of their operating models. A central theme of sustainability initiatives is the reduction of carbon emissions, which is widely supported by commercial and government policies targeting net-zero economies.

Transferring network functions from local hardware (located on the business premises) to cloud-based alternatives is one step that has the potential to offer substantial reductions in electricity usage and thus carbon emissions. Understanding and measuring how this transition can reduce emissions is challenging. There are complex issues associated with making a fair comparison between the typical power consumption of physical on-premises equipment (which are typically dedicated to a single enterprise) relative to cloud-based servers, which are used by thousands of different customers.

Analysys Mason was commissioned by Cloudflare to quantify the potential reduction in carbon emissions that could be achieved if on-premises enterprise network functions are replaced with Cloudflare’s cloud-based alternatives. The analysis focused on ‘Scope 2’ emissions of carbon dioxide as defined in the GHG protocol, i.e. those that are related to the generation of electricity required to power enterprise network functions.

The enterprise network functions in scope include a broad range of security, management and optimisation functions, including: network firewall, intrusion detection system (IDS), intrusion prevention system (IPS), virtual private network (VPN) concentrator, load balancing, wide area network (WAN) optimisation, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), secure web gateway (SWG), web application firewall (WAF), and distributed denial of service (DDoS) mitigation. Functions such as routing and switching are likely to have to remain on-premises, and so are not included in the analysis.

Our analysis used a combination of desk research, industry intelligence and information provided by Cloudflare. Information on the on-premises network functions has been sourced from datasheets published by equipment vendors. All of the information relating to cloud products has been sourced from Cloudflare, and therefore the results are also specific to Cloudflare. However, we have requested and analysed the information as independent and objective advisors, and would employ a similar approach with information obtained from other sources.

The analysis showed that moving the enterprise network functions considered in the analysis to Cloudflare products could reduce annual carbon emissions by 78–96%, depending on the size of the enterprise. Most of this reduction is attributed to the much higher utilisation of the cloud servers relative to on-premises devices. We also calculated carbon savings from the increased power efficiency of cloud data centres, and variations in the carbon intensity of generation from the local grid.

The report, commissioned by Cloudflare, is available here.

For further details about this project, please contact Maria Tunberg or Andrew Daly.

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Report (PDF)