According to a detailed report by NYT, data centers have literally become the hallmark of inefficient power usage, consuming billions of watts of power.

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With the massive explosion of digital information and numerous social networks growing at a rapid pace, it is inevitable that more and more data centers are needed. Data centers are the places, stuffed with servers, which contain the data of these respective social networks and companies. The dark secret, however, is that these data centers are highly inefficient when it comes to power consumption.


In today’s digital age, any company that has a data of millions of users, to store and use, needs to have a data center. The massive amount of data goes into the huge servers that are found at these centers. Companies equip these data centers with multiple power options which spring to life in case of a power failure. This is done to virtually eliminate the possibility of servers crashing.

The story from the companies’ perspective:
Imagine Facebook’s data centers going down due to a power failure. Naturally, this sits rather unwell with the users who want instant, 24/7 access to the social network. This is precisely why there’s a huge pressure on the tech companies to be very diligent in ensuring the continuous working of their data centers, whatever it may take.

And the use of data centers is not limited to tech giants alone. U.S. federal agencies have more than 2,000 data centers which are used to store all kinds of important data. New York Stock Exchange generates massive amounts of data each day which has to be stored, at times for many years to come. In total, about 1.8 trillion Gigabytes of data was created globally, as per the statistics released by International Data Corporation.

In the digital age that we live in, virtually every company is driving a lot of data which it needs to store and use in the coming future. So they all have to rely on huge data centers where thousands of servers are tucked in.

The huge demand for data centers can be gauged from the fact that in totat, about 30 billion watts of electricity are being consumed by data centers around the globe. And U.S. alone accounts for one-third of that total consumption. The technology giants in U.S., Google and Facebook combined, account for 360 million watts of power being consumed by their data centers. In total, data centers across U.S. consumed a whopping 76 billion kilowatts-hour worth of power in 2010.

The dirty side of the picture:
However, when it comes to power consumption of these data centers, the story takes a rather ugly turn. Most of the data centers make use of the power they get from power grids in a highly inefficient manner.

For instance, according to a study conducted by New York Times, most of the data centers make use of only 6 to 12 percent of the power they consume in actually running servers. The rest goes into keeping servers ‘awake’ so that they may be used any second. Moreover, the power consumption remains high no matter whether its a peak hour or not which, in turn, brings a lot of load on the main power grids.

The Times reports, “data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid.” At the same time, most data centers have back-up power sources ready in case of a power failure. These range from diesel-run generators to lead-acid batteries and more. Some, like the diesel generators, are highly toxic for the air and release pollutants into the environment.

For instance, Amazon has violated the air quality regulations in Virginia 24 times in the last 3 years. Its data center makes use of generators, some of which are being ran without the required permits. As a result, Amazon has been slapped with a fine of $261,638.

Deliberate power wastage by Microsoft:
Sometimes, the power wastage can be deliberate as has been revealed to be the case with Microsoft’s data center. The company deliberately wasted $70,000 worth of electricity in its Quincy data center which hosts its chief services such as Hotmail and Bing. This was done so as to reach the minimum power-use target because failure to do so may have resulted in a huge fine for the company.

So to avoid the fine, the company artificially bumped its power consumption by wasting huge amounts of power within three days. Naturally, all that wasted power put a sizeable carbon footprint on the environment.

What needs to be done is that the companies need to find more efficient ways of managing their data centers. If a server isn’t being used, it doesn’t need to be on standby all the time, eating away millions of watts of power over time.

Source: NYT

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  On September 26, 2012(2 years, 1 month ago.)

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