Data Centers Revealed As Massively Inefficient Energy Hogs

Google Data Center, The DallesIt’s good to see the New York Times engage in some real investigative reporting for a change. In this piece Frank Glanz uses FOIA requests and other federal and local government records to reveal how data centers have become major pollution centers:

Jeff Rothschild’s machines at Facebook had a problem he knew he had to solve immediately. They were about to melt.

The company had been packing a 40-by-60-foot rental space here with racks of computer servers that were needed to store and process information from members’ accounts. The electricity pouring into the computers was overheating Ethernet sockets and other crucial components.

Thinking fast, Mr. Rothschild, the company’s engineering chief, took some employees on an expedition to buy every fan they could find — “We cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area,” he said — to blast cool air at the equipment and prevent the Web site from going down.

That was in early 2006, when Facebook had a quaint 10 million or so users and the one main server site. Today, the information generated by nearly one billion people requires outsize versions of these facilities, called data centers, with rows and rows of servers spread over hundreds of thousands of square feet, and all with industrial cooling systems.

They are a mere fraction of the tens of thousands of data centers that now exist to support the overall explosion of digital information. Stupendous amounts of data are set in motion each day as, with an innocuous click or tap, people download movies on iTunes, check credit card balances through Visa’s Web site, send Yahoo e-mail with files attached, buy products on Amazon, post on Twitter or read newspapers online.

A yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.

Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found.

To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters.

Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show…

[continues at the New York Times]

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  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    I know a dude who owns a fleet of big data centers
    he switched to LED lighting and cut is light bill by 75%
    he tries to keep this under the radar
    because he wants to keep ahead of his competitors
    and he likes the increased profit
    Capitalism at its finest

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    I know a dude who owns a fleet of big data centers
    he switched to LED lighting and cut is light bill by 75%
    he tries to keep this under the radar
    because he wants to keep ahead of his competitors
    and he likes the increased profit
    Capitalism at its finest

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    I know a dude who owns a fleet of big data centers
    he switched to LED lighting and cut is light bill by 75%
    he tries to keep this under the radar
    because he wants to keep ahead of his competitors
    and he likes the increased profit
    Capitalism at its finest

    • Rgtvandenberg

      So holding back a potential improvement that could benefit everyone is ‘capitalism at it’s finest’? Interesting.

      • kowalityjesus

        c’est sarcasm

  • http://twitter.com/alizardx A.Lizard

    This is largely bad habit. There are *many* ways to reduce power utilization in data centers, some of which will result in immediate cost reductions, some of which will reduce costs over a period of years. Is google not the friend of the CIOs at enterprise data centers? Cheaping out by looking for lowest cost server components without considering power usage likely to be more expensive even in the short run. Even little fixes like LED lighting (and using IR detectors to keep lights on only when actual humans are in areas) can save serious money. 

    As for reducing environmental loading in general, some data centers are in conditions favorable for local solar or wind, some are in areas cold enough to use the external environment as a heat sink, some can use local lakes/rivers for cooling. (these aren’t nuclear reactors)

  • http://twitter.com/alizardx A.Lizard

    This is largely bad habit. There are *many* ways to reduce power utilization in data centers, some of which will result in immediate cost reductions, some of which will reduce costs over a period of years. Is google not the friend of the CIOs at enterprise data centers? Cheaping out by looking for lowest cost server components without considering power usage likely to be more expensive even in the short run. Even little fixes like LED lighting (and using IR detectors to keep lights on only when actual humans are in areas) can save serious money. 

    As for reducing environmental loading in general, some data centers are in conditions favorable for local solar or wind, some are in areas cold enough to use the external environment as a heat sink, some can use local lakes/rivers for cooling. (these aren’t nuclear reactors)

  • Guest

    Hey morons, stop over exaggerating the power consumption of lights and CRT monitors. This is why we can’t have nice things anymore.

  • Guest

    Hey morons, stop over exaggerating the power consumption of lights and CRT monitors. This is why we can’t have nice things anymore.

  • Bit

    Can it drainz my tool?

  • Infvocuernos

    Maybe we could site data centers in the ANWAR

  • Infvocuernos

    Maybe we could site data centers in the ANWAR

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