Edge sustainability: Navigating strategies for success

Edge Insights, Sustainability

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Edge computing presents unique challenges and limitations when compared to traditional data centres. This report provides practical guidance for edge operators aiming to achieve sustainability goals.

The edge compute sustainability challenge

Sustainability is a strategic priority for cloud computing and should be prioritised at the edge

Data centre sustainability is becoming increasingly critical in the face of climate change and rising global energy demands. Data centres already draw approximately 1.5% of the world’s electricity, a figure set to expand in tandem with the growth of cloud and edge computing. Future projections underscore the scale of the situation: by 2030, data centres could be responsible for consuming 5‑10% of total electricity in some countries.

The imperative for data centre sustainability extends beyond environmental stewardship – it’s also strategic concern. Providers are increasingly held accountable for their carbon footprint, with customers, investors, and regulatory bodies demanding transparency and action. This shift places data centre efficiency and sustainability at the forefront of corporate strategy, emphasising not just cost savings but also corporate responsibility and long-term viability.

Edge sustainability is overlooked

There is much less coverage on the topic of edge compute sustainability than there is on traditional data centre sustainability. There is an expectation of significant growth in edge compute. STL Partners has projected that the total global market size will grow from US$9 billion in 2020 to over US$450 billion in 2030, at a CAGR of 49% over the 10-year period. It is critical that this growth is developed in a manner as sustainable as possible, arguably more so than the traditional centralised cloud. While some of the sustainable data centre strategies also apply at the edge, the nature of certain edge environments means that these strategies become less effective or even unviable. More edge-specific strategies are needed.

This picture is further complicated by the desire of edge operators to simplify their deployment and management of distributed compute, necessitating standardised, highly reliable and low-maintenance infrastructure. Finally, every edge operator will have a unique situation, reflecting their existing edge location infrastructure, operating environment, and resources. Therefore, edge operators looking to improve the sustainability of their operations must develop sustainable strategies that are specific to them and their unique requirements. Which sustainable edge strategies are suitable and when should they be used?

Edge versus cloud sustainability

How do we define edge computing?

Edge computing can be defined as the processing of enterprise and/or telco network workloads at the (physical and topological) edge of the network as opposed to in a centralised data centre or the cloud. Edge computing emphasises the importance of handling data and applications closer to their source, with a view to reducing latency and improving efficiency in data transmission and processing. It also ensures data sovereignty and different levels of security. Different types of edge computing can be distinguished by the physical or logical location in which workloads are processed. This report focuses on three main types of edge computing:

  • On-premises edge computing: On-premise edge computing refers to computing resources that reside at the customer site, for example on an IoT gateway physically on-site, an on-premises data centre, etc.
  • Network edge (mobile and access network): Network edge refers to edge compute locations that are at sites or points of presence (PoPs) run by a telecoms operator, for example at a central office in the mobile network or at an ISP’s node.
  • Regional data centre: Regional edge refers to small carrier-neutral data centres or internet exchanges, often located near tier two and tier three cities.

Edge computing environments typically differ from traditional data centre environments due to their remote and distributed characteristics. Implementing standard data centre features, such as advanced HVAC systems, uninterruptible power systems (UPS), and continuous support staff, is not typically cost-effective in these settings due to a lack of economies of scale. The table below describes some of the key differences between a data centre and non-data centre environment.

Edge computing environments often lack traditional data centre features

Source: STL Partners

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Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
    • Edge computing: The next frontier of sustainability strategies
  • The edge compute sustainability challenge
    • Sustainability is a strategic priority for cloud computing and should be prioritised at the edge
    • Edge sustainability is overlooked
  • Edge versus cloud sustainability
    • The dark truth about PUE and why this matters more for edge
    • Start by pursuing ‘baseline’ sustainable edge strategies
  • Beyond the baseline: Advanced sustainability strategies for edge environments
    • Which sustainability strategies are suitable when?
    • How big an impact can the right strategy have? An example from the telco world

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Kuba Smolorz


Kuba Smolorz


Kuba Smolorz is a consultant at STL Partners.