Can We Make Large Data Centres More Energy-Efficient

The large data centres that provide us with the internet most of us take for granted are huge energy hogs. Not only they require a tremendous amount of electricity to work but they also generate as much CO2 as the airline industry. We have to reverse this trend by switching to clean energy sources and by improving the energy efficiency of data centres online like in the cloud, and physically with the increased use of ups battery replacements etc.

As immaterial as it may appear, the cloud where we store our data, our movies, and our communications with the world has a physical presence. It resides in multiple data centres scattered across the world and taking a heavy toll on the health of our planet.

Data centres took over the entire globe. They power all digital services of our world. Their construction is an expensive endeavour costing the world a whooping $20 billion every year.

The largest of these data centres need as much power as a city with millions of residents. Together, they account for more than 2 percent of the whole energy consumption of the world and they release into the atmosphere the same CO2 amount as the airline industry. Furthermore, they grow extremely fast, as global data traffic is currently doubling every four years of so.

Despite their size and their coverage, data centres are rather insidious. You may be living near one of them without even knowing it. Also, there’s no way for you to tell which data centre delivers your Netflix movie streaming, nor whether it runs on renewable energy resources of not.

Day after day we see how physical stuff around us is replaced by digital data. We are tempted to believe that this dematerialised data has an extremely small carbon footprint. This isn’t quite true. If the IT industry as a whole were a country, it would come third after China and the US when it comes to their climate change contribution. This data comes from a Greenpeace report on the “race to build a green Internet” unveiled last year.

Everything that involves gathering, storing, processing, and using data requires energy. The processors that power the largest data centres in the world can use the entire amount of energy generated by a huge power station, with values that may exceed 1,000 MW. In addition, an almost equal amount of energy would go into preventing these buildings and the servers inside them from overheating.

Wherever you may look, you’ll find out that every bit of information adds to this. According to Google, the giant of Internet search, a typical web search needs an equal amount of energy as illuminating a 60-watt light bulb for 17 seconds. This process generates 0.2g of CO2. While it may not seem much, multiply it with the estimated number of searches you perform in a year.

Moreover, Google isn’t as data-heavy as other services. Just consider video streaming over the internet and its whooping amount of data transferred each and every second. According to some estimations, about 30 percent of all internet traffic in North America comes from Netflix streaming.

Under these circumstances, more and more IT services providers aim to switch to using 100 percent renewable energy sources. Some of them are even building their own giant energy campuses to be able to live up to their promises. Switch, the cloud giant that runs three of the top 10 data centres worldwide, announced their plans to build a solar-powered hub in Nevada that will be bigger than any other similar one in the world, except for the ones in China.