For the world’s largest websites, web hosting companies, & businesses in various industries, data centers are the ‘heart and lungs’ of everything that they do.
Describing a data center is difficult. Some people have likened them to small villages made up solely of computers, which is probably as accurate a description as you are going to get. Data centers are in a difficult position, in that they are essential to the whole internet; without them, there would quite simply be no internet. In addition, businesses who lost data center power would crumble and in all probability go out of business very quickly.
The difficulty comes from the energy that they consume, and more pointedly, the energy they waste.
Data Center Energy Wastage
There have been various estimated placed on how much energy a data center uses and wastes. Of course, these figures will vary from one company to another, but it is believed that some data centers waste up to 90% of their total energy usage. In most cases, between only 6% – 12% of total energy is use is actually for server or network communications at any one time; the rest is simply a failsafe in case there is a peak in demand.
Whatever method of calculation you use, that is clearly a huge number. How does this happen?
- Data centers usually are set to run at full power at all times, irrespective of actual energy needs and demand
- Almost all data centers will run powerful generators, that they rarely use, to protect them in the event of a power failure
An estimate of worldwide energy use in data centers recently but the figure at 30billion watts on an annual basis. As a guide figure, this is the equivalent of 30 nuclear power stations.
A Dirty Secret
For anyone looking at these numbers from the outside, they are truly staggering, especially considering that the internet is held in conventional wisdom to be green and eco-friendly. Clearly, this is not the case. In fact, in the United States, the owners of several data centers, including several in the famed Silicon Valley region, are listed on the U.S Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory. Others have been cited for breach of air quality regulations. Amazon had 24 in the three-year period 2010 – 2012 inclusive.
The Future of Data Centers
Given the way various organizations around the world are promoting the environmental agenda, it is clear that these trends cannot continue. How can data centers become greener?
- Amend operations based on the two points raised earlier. If a data center only uses what it truly needs, it will reduce costs massively, for the data center owners and potentially hosting companies’ clients as well as the layperson. Generators may be necessary, but can surely be optimized to work only when they need to; indeed, reduced energy use will actually make power cuts less likely
- Incentives for data center owners to become greener and more efficient, although these are likely to be controversial
- Innovating their own technology in terms of energy use; can waste energy be channeled, stored, or used elsewhere? Costs and carbon emissions will again be massively reduced.
Yes, there are challenges that will come as a result of this, but the biggest is surely going to be getting out of the bad habits that they have been in for many years. The best option is likely to be a commitment into research and development, as a whole across the industry rather than on a company-by-company basis, in addition to the initiatives already mentioned, so that energy use and wastage can be massively reduced.