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.

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