In July 2021, Cloudflare described that although we did not start out with the goal to reduce the Internet's environmental impact, that has changed. Our mission is to help build a better Internet, and clearly a better Internet must be sustainable.
As we continue to hunt for efficiencies in every component of our network hardware, every piece of software we write, and every Internet protocol we support, we also want to understand in terms of Internet architecture how moving network security, performance, and reliability functions like those offered by Cloudflare from on-premise solutions to the cloud affects sustainability.
To that end, earlier this year we commissioned a study from the consulting firm Analysys Mason to evaluate the relative carbon efficiency of network functions like firewalls, WAF, SD-WAN, DDoS protection, content servers, and others that are provided through Cloudflare against similar on-premise solutions.
Although the full report will not be available until next year, we are pleased to share that according to initial findings:
Cloudflare Web Application Firewall (WAF) "generates up to around 90% less carbon than on-premises appliances at low-medium traffic demand."
Needless to say, we are excited about the possibilities of these early findings, and look forward to the full report which early indications suggest will show more ways in which moving to Cloudflare will help reduce your infrastructure’s carbon footprint. However, like most things at Cloudflare, we see this as only the beginning.
Fixing the Internet's energy/emissions problem
The Internet has a number of environmental impacts that need to be addressed, including raw material extraction, water consumption by data centers, and recycling and e-waste, among many others. But, none of those are more urgent than energy and emissions.
According to the United Nations, energy generation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for approximately 35% of global emissions. If you think about all the power needed to run servers, routers, switches, data centers, and Internet exchanges around the world, it's not surprising that the Boston Consulting Group found that 2% of all carbon output, about 1 billion metric tons per year, is attributable to the Internet.
Conceptually, reducing emissions from energy consumption is relatively straightforward — transition to zero emissions energy sources, and use energy more efficiently in order to speed that transition. However, practically, applying those concepts to a geographically distributed, disparate networks and systems like the global Internet is infinitely more difficult.
To date, much has been written about improving efficiency or individual pieces of network hardware (like Cloudflare's deployment of more efficient Arm CPUs) and the power usage efficiency or "PUE" of hyperscale data centers. However, we think there are significant efficiency gains to be made throughout all layers of the network stack, as well as the basic architecture of the Internet itself. We think this study is the first step in investigating those underexplored areas.
How is the study being conducted?
Because the final report is still being written, we'll have more information about its methodology upon publication. But, here is what we know so far.
To estimate the relative carbon savings of moving enterprise network functions, like those offered by Cloudflare, to the cloud, the Analysys Mason team is evaluating a wide range of enterprise network functions. These include firewalls, WAF, SD-WAN, DDoS protection, and content servers. For each function they are modeling a variety of scenarios, including usage, different sizes and types of organizations, and different operating conditions.
Information relating to the power and capacity of each on-premise appliance is being sourced from public data sheets from relevant vendors. Information on Cloudflare’s energy consumption is being compiled from internal datasets of total power usage of Cloudflare servers, and the allocation of CPU resources and traffic between different products.
Final report — coming soon!
According to the Analysys Mason team, we should expect the final report sometime in early 2023. Until then, we do want to mention again that the initial WAF results described above may be subject to change as the project continues, and assumptions and methodology are refined. Regardless, we think these are exciting developments and look forward to sharing the full report soon!
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