Thursday, June 16, 2011

Data Centers: The Next Sustainability Red-Zone?

So today I walked past two of my workplace's "data centers." I put these in quotes because to be honest, two closet sized server farms pale in comparison to the new-aged data centers that are being ramped up (I'm talking zettabyte centers, SON!).

However, despite their relatively small sizes, I could definitely feel a temperature change when being near these rooms. This isn't terribly surprising because electronics throw off a ton of heat and require large amounts of climate control measures to keep them from overheating and shutting down.

Combining seeing these rooms with the fact that I had WAY too much coffee this morning led to me thinking about the issues that data centers are going to present us in the very near future. Recently there was a study that showed that Netflix is the new majority holder of internet bandwidth usage in the United States due to video streaming.

Data Center Scaling

I am certainly guilty of abusing the hell out of Netflix streaming as I have watched all the episodes of Dexter and Scrubs multiple times over, and I am soon going to be moving on to Sponge Bob Square Pants (yes, I am a nerd).

However, video steaming is only the tip of an iceberg that is only going to get bigger. Google is placing a huge bet with its Chromebooks that computers are going to be cloud-based in the future, and more and more services are being migrated to the virtual world. This is all wonderfully convenient, and I wouldn't change a thing about it - but it is going to ultimately lead to the necessary scaling of data centers.

The Problem

This means that there is going to be an increase in energy consumption, and to make things worse, this energy consumption is going to come at night, which traditionally is when energy rates have been cheaper.

Why at night? People spend the most time online at night streaming television shows, stalking their exes on facebook, etc. This will end up putting a higher demand on the baseline energy producers and increasing the need to scale up our energy production.

I'm not saying that this will happen all at once, but it isn't too farfetched to see how these dominos can fall.

The Solution

One way to address this is to obviously build more clean energy sources. If data is going to increase at night, raising a demand for nighttime electricity, then it is logical to build more wind turbines seeing that they produce most of their energy at night.

This is why I believe Google is investing so much into clean energy sources, whether it is the offshore windfarm network they are investing in, the new deal they struck with SolarCity, or the EV charging network they penned with Coulomb. They recognize that there is going to be a larger demand on their data centers, and the best way to green-up their operations is to offset their energy usage with clean electricity.

Ultimately, our need for increased data supplies and speeds will correlate directly with energy consumption, and it would be irresponsible to scale up these centers without cleaner means of energy production.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Electric Vehicle Adoption: Ready Or Not - Here It Comes

I want to rant about something before I write this post... Why one earth did this person walk into the an essentially empty coffee shop and sit across the table facing me? Now whenever I let my mind wander and look away from my screen, I am forced to make awkward eye-contact with this creep.

Annoying... but I digress.

As if it a huge surprise, people seem to be talking more and more about electric vehicles these days. Lets recap if you are having trouble wrapping your brain around this phenomenon:
  1. Gas prices are ridiculously high and continue to be relatively volatile.
  2. The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf have been rolled out to a highly demanded market.
  3. Ford and Toyota have announced their upcoming plugin vehicles respectively.
  4. President Obama is still aiming at the (relatively unachievable) goal of 1 million EV's on the road by 2015.
  5. Steven Chu has been sexing it up with Coulomb Technologies in California after they reached their 500th charging station in North America.
  6. Google announced the largest corporate charging infrastructure to date.
  7. Almost every day there is announcement on technology promising to make charging faster.
It would seem that there is a definite trend towards EV adoption, but there are still people that are resistent to the adoption of this technology. Putting aside the tired commentary that these people are the same as the crowd that was "against automobile adoption when horses are just fine," these people do bring up some fine points that I am going to systematically attac...I mean address now.

EV's Are More Carbon Intensive To Produce

I am not going to argue against this point mainly because there are 500 different environmental studies of what is actually going into the production of these batteries...mainly because the companies that are producing these batteries guard their intellectual property as if their lives depended on it.

However, the carbon emissions from vehicles is well documented and the numbers don't lie. They are terrible. I seriously find it hard to believe that the one time environmental impact expenditure of producing a battery for a EV is more damaging than the repeated beating of extracting, producing, and burning gasoline.

Electricity Is Just As Dirty As Gasoline

Coal is filthy. No doubt about that. However, this argument is assuming that going forward we are going to continue building more coal-fired electricity plants as we continue to maintain our infrastructure.

This simply isn't the case because the world is moving towards more renewable energy production, the most recent case being Boulder, CO who is aiming to get 90% of their electricity from clean sources. It is unrealistic that all of America is going to get all of their electricity from clean sources in the near future, but eventually we are going to have a much high percentage which will make this argument of electricity not being any cleaner than gasoline pointless.

EV's Don't Have Adequate Charging Times Or Driving Distances

I don't have a great argument here because the fact is that both of these points is true. Until EV's can get longer driving distances, there is going to be a need to charge your vehicles more frequently which is disappointing if you just think about the charging times.

However, by ramping up charging infrastructure, you can mitigate these concerns of charging because people don't drive super long distances very often and parking and charging your car while you go shopping or while you are at work becomes less of a big deal.

With that said, Steven Chu has been motivated to have cheaper, longer ranged EV's for consumers in the near future, and I am not one to bet against that guy.

Thats all for now... and you guessed it - I really just wrote this post so I could post my favorite photoshop of Steven Chu.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Site News: Back From Unofficial Hiatus

I would like to apologize for the lack of posting updates on this blog as of late. I have been really throwing myself into work because:
  1. I really love all the things I am doing in the office.
  2. My personal life has been moving at the pace of a snail so it is easier to just focus on the job.
In any event, I have received a few emails from people wondering why I haven’t been gracing the Internet with my witty-banter. My first reaction, as always, was wondering, “how the hell did they get my email,” but that reaction quickly faded when I received this heartwarming message:

“Are you dead?”

No. No I am not, but thanks for jumping to that conclusion.

So in an attempt to get you nerds to stop emailing me, I will try and update this blog more often, but I’m not going to make a promise on a set posting schedule, because let’s face it – I proved that I am not good at that.