Dirty Secrets of Internet Data Centers


Photo: Ethan Pines/The New York Times

Quick: what industry uses 30 billion watts of energy (the equivalent of the output of about 30 nuclear power plants), wastes 90% of that and pollutes the environment by belching diesel exhaust, all while cloaked in near total secrecy?

You're using it, actually. Behold the data centers that power the Internet:

“It’s staggering for most people, even people in the industry, to understand the numbers, the sheer size of these systems,” said Peter Gross, who helped design hundreds of data centers. “A single data center can take more power than a medium-size town.”

Energy efficiency varies widely from company to company. But at the request of The Times, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations. The rest was essentially used to keep servers idling and ready in case of a surge in activity that could slow or crash their operations.

A server is a sort of bulked-up desktop computer, minus a screen and keyboard, that contains chips to process data. The study sampled about 20,000 servers in about 70 large data centers spanning the commercial gamut: drug companies, military contractors, banks, media companies and government agencies.

“This is an industry dirty secret, and no one wants to be the first to say mea culpa,” said a senior industry executive who asked not to be identified to protect his company’s reputation. “If we were a manufacturing industry, we’d be out of business straightaway.”

James Glanz of The New York Times has the story: Link


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This is no different to say, cars - which sit around doing nothing for most of their lives (think of the energy required to build them and move them to their parked destination). And electrical lighting - how much electricity is wasted on empty rooms?
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This is a bogus analysis. The Neatoshop's data center is actually saving energy because it allow people to buy neat things without having to drive anywhere.
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